The History Of Advertising 

Three Hands Holding Up Newspapers And Magazines

Table of Contents

A while back, we discussed the history of web design. To continue on this series, we wanted to explore the history of advertising. Come with us on a journey from advertisements that predate the internet, to what we predict the future will hold. 

Pre-Internet Advertising

Before the internet, advertising was typically shared by word of mouth or via print. This even goes as far back as Ancient Egypt, where advertising was weaved onto papyrus paper. In the early 1700s, the first newspaper adverts were printed in America. These would be text-only for quite some time, until images became popular. Photographs, drawings and illustrations would become an essential part of the discipline of advertisement. 

The first TV advert aired in America in 1941. It was 9 seconds long, and would precede the UK’s first TV ad by 14 years. The UK’s first television advertisement was over a minute long and was about toothpaste! 

1994: The Birth Of Digital Advertising

The first online banner advertisement was created in 1994. It cost $30,000 to run for 3 months, got a click-through rate of 44% and revolutionised the way we consume online content. From here, things would change very quickly. Adverts were a great way for publishers to provide free content for their consumers while still generating an income. 

Digital Display Advertising Graphic With Mobile And Desktop Screens

It wouldn’t take long for digital advertisers to realise that the internet provided a platform where content could be shown to targeted audiences. In 1995, agencies started using demographic research to analyse which websites were best suited to which adverts. Tools were also created to prevent adverts from showing to the same users over and over again. Both of these services were pioneered by an advertising agency called WebConnect, who would go on to publicly criticise the use of website cookies – much to their own detriment.  

You might be wondering – what do cookies have to do with website advertising? The answer is: an awful lot. To get a well-rounded idea of their role, let’s take a closer look at the history of website cookies. 

The History Of Website Cookies

Cookies are small nuggets of data about website users. They were first used in 1994 and are a way for websites to remember their visitors and their browsing habits. Cookies are useful for advertisers and users alike. Users benefit from a browsing experience that’s tailored to their habits and preferences, as well as having useful information like passwords stored. Advertisers benefit from better success with advertisements, as the tailored experience results in better engagement. 

Image Of Website Cookies

WebConnect didn’t believe this to be true, and eventually fell behind as a result. They would turn to focus on email services instead, while a new company called DoubleClick paved the way forward for targeted advertisements. 

DoubleClick created tools which allowed advertisers to analyse the success of their campaigns and judge whether their money was being spent well. This would create demand for better quality advertising that produced measurable and proven results. This software would also become the inspiration for charging by clicks and impressions, rather than advert duration. 

Remember, all of this is happening before search engines became popular or even existed. Digital advertising was about to undergo yet another major transformation with the arrival of Google in 1998. 

How Google Changed Digital Advertising

The birth of Google would change the way we used the internet. As users began to search for the products and services they wanted, sponsored adverts would emerge. Over time, the adverts that Google displayed in search results would demand better quality. This would lead to competition among advertisers to produce the best content and compete for the most relevant keywords for their service. Google’s platform was developed so that anyone could compete, and you couldn’t buy your way to the top. This lead to better quality adverts and a better user experience.  

Facebook & Social Media Ads

Facebook launched in 2004, and its rapid increase in popularity lead to them offering opportunities to advertisers. Initially, Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook,  claimed that the ads were to offset the cost of their servers. However, the huge success of Facebook meant that it would inevitably lead to huge profits. 

In 2006, YouTube would be purchased by Google and launch ads on their videos. Twitter would also launch in this year. It would take a few more years for Twitter to introduce promoted tweets (2010) and have celebrities using their popularity to promote brands to their followers (2011).  

There would be many, many developments across all social media platforms that allowed brands to advertise. This could be through sponsored adverts or by paying influencers to promote their products. Such developments would call for better regulation in the advertising industry. This leads us to the introduction of GDPR and disclaimers. 

GDPR & Disclaimer Rules

In 2018, the European Union brought in a General Data Protection Regulation, better known as GDPR. These regulations were put in place to ensure that personal data would be handled with respect and care. They give users a right to retain their privacy, so any entity that collects personal data must seek the user’s permission if they wish to use it. They also need to be allowed to withdraw that permission at any time.  

A big reason for introducing GDPR was to reduce the amount of data breaches that would occur. The rules give data controllers a lot more responsibility. Therefore, data is collected and stored more securely than ever, as breaches will land irresponsible data handlers with huge fines. This would affect some targeted advertising, as users who choose not to share their browsing data with websites would not be able to receive targeted adverts.  

Domain Authority

Content creators would also be given strict guidelines, requiring them to specify when they are posting about sponsored content. Both GDPR and disclaimer rules serve to create more transparency between advertisers and consumers. 

The Future Of Advertising

Advertisements have changed dramatically over the course of many years. It’s almost impossible to predict where it could go, but we expect to see more innovation and exciting developments in the future. As people become more aware of their mental health, we predict that additional rules and regulations will be introduced with this in mind. 

With the rise of AI generated content, we also predict that advertisements will be subjected to stringent rules surrounding the use of AI. We think this will be particularly important as the technology improves and creates the possibility of producing believable impersonations of celebrities and public figures.  

What do you think the future of advertising will hold?  

Written by Alice Farley


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