Signs of the Times: Digital Advertising

The Golden Age of advertising is generally agreed to have taken place between the 1960s and 1980s. Ad agencies during that time period developed the tools and techniques that have dominated this field since. Today, the internet is playing an increasing role in how consumers access content about products and services. Computer technologies are enabling advertisers to reach very specific audiences with highly targeted advertising content. From electronic billboards lining the highway to poster-sized signs in airports, digital signage applications are displaying dynamic marketing messages about consumer goods. Predicting how advertising will evolve in the internet age is practically impossible, but exploring some history and trends can be fascinating.

Early Internet Advertising

Difficult as it may be to imagine, online advertisements were scarce in the early days of the internet. Very few businesses were convinced that this platform would be an effective way to reach customers. A few ads began to appear in the mid-1990s but soon after that, the rush was on. Something called a banner ad emerged as the forerunner to what has become today’s complex online advertising landscape. These first advertisements were simple static rectangular spaces in which a company could present a marketing message. Using hyperlinks allowed a user to click on a banner ad and be transported to the advertiser’s website.

Internet Growth

Late in the 1990s, large corporations like AT&T began developing websites and utilizing online advertisements. During this period the pop-up ad became an annoying presence online. These were mostly unwanted ads that partially obstructed a user’s view of the screen. Shortly afterward software was developed to block these kinds of aggressive marketing techniques. Between 2003 and 2004 traffic on the internet almost doubled and during that same period worldwide PC sales almost exceeded 200 million units. The stage was being set for massive internet growth and modern online advertising.

The Move to Personalization

Today’s advertising eco-system is becoming ever more sophisticated and nuanced. As the technologies that enable the internet have advanced, the ability to reach very specific audiences has improved dramatically. Companies can now create profiles that describe their target market in great detail. Data like this can then be matched with existing customer databases to identify consumers who are most likely to make purchases. Social media websites are particularly well suited to this kind of marketing. Individuals may freely share information about themselves online that can then be scooped up and used to deliver custom advertisements directly to them.

The future of advertisements online is likely to resemble what we would think of as science fiction today. Companies are constantly developing new ways to reach their customers and technology is enabling that process.

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