Twenty years ago on October 27, 1994, HotWired (Wired’s digital magazine) released about 14 rectangular banner ads on their site for the first time in Internet history.  AT&T was among the brands to pioneer the revolution for digital media, releasing this ad for Ma Bell boldly stating, “Have you ever clicked your mouse right HERE? You Will.” From that day forward, the capacity for digital innovation was infinite.

AT&T’s “Ma Bell” ad, one of the world’s first Banner Ads.

AT&T’s “Ma Bell” ad, one of the world’s first Banner Ads.

Of course, encountering ads online can be an annoyance (especially back in 1994 when dial-up could only move so fast); however, digital advertising is the fundamental source that brings us what we often take for granted, the free Internet. And for advertisers, digital media meant tracking ad performance like they had never been able to before: monitor exactly how many people have been exposed to your ad, as well as how many people have actually clicked and interacted with your ad.

We’ve come a long way since these simply contrived rectangular banner ads, in fact, digital ads reached $23 billion in revenue for the first half of 2014, a 15% increase since 2013.  The proliferation of online advertising has only pushed companies to invest more, thus spurring even more digital innovation.

So what’s been happening in the digital world between now and 1994?

  • 1996: OpenText creates paid ads, but quickly dissolves the idea after they were said to be “crossing a line”
  • 1998: Yahoo! brings back the paid ad concept
  • 1999: Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) paved the way for mobile internet & mobile advertising
  • 2000: Google AdWords is born

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  • 2005: Facebook launches “social ads” to promote JP Morgan’s Chase credit cards
  • 2007: The first iPhone is released
  • 2008: YouTube begins using pre-roll ads

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Over the past two decades, Internet users have grown from 16 million users in 1995 to over 1.2 billion today. Nowadays, even my grandparents are surfing the web with ease. So what does this mean for advertising?  More and more businesses are leaning toward digital marketing because it’s the easiest and cheapest way to reach your targeted customers.

Web traffic is at an all time high, so ensuring that sufficient numbers of people are exposed to ad content is simple; however, the problem that companies often face is a lack of action following ad exposure. The solution? Interactivity and Personal Engagement.

Macy’s most recent interactive campaign is far from the boring, motionless banner ads we saw in prior years; rather, this ad allows web surfers to scratch and peel back the ad to reveal new fashion offered at Macy’s department stores. The best part is if you choose to engage with this ad, you don’t have to deal with the always-aggravating annoyance of being redirected from your originally accessed webpage—honestly, I can’t believe it has taken advertisers this long to figure that out!

Who doesn’t remember Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man could Smell Like” commercial, one of the greatest innovative ideas in interactive campaigns? This video went viral and everybody was talking about it. Not only did the original commercial garner over 30 million views, it also prompted a “response campaign” in which users could post questions via video and the Old Spice Man would respond to fans.


There is nothing that makes strengthens a brand more than a consumer’s personal engagement. The success of the Old Spice 2010 campaign earned them the leading spot in the men’s soap category with their sales up 125% from the previous year.

One of my favorite interactive campaigns was from the 2012 super bowl, when Coke created a live-stream, in real-time, animated commentary featuring polar bears reviewing the game and its subsequent commercials.

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The campaign was ingenious for extending the message across all digital and mobile media, using rich-media banner ads on relevant sites and posting updates to social media.

It is truly amazing looking back at how far the digital experience has come in only 20 years. Our behavior has been entirely restructured by the influence of the digital revolution. At this rate, I can’t even begin to imagine how the digital world will shape us by 2034.

-Emily S.