A Brief History Of Internet Display Advertising -- And The People Who Hate It

Jonathan Mendez, whose main claim to fame is that he was the founder and CEO ofYieldbot until October, has written a history of the last 10 years of internet display advertising on his blog.

He starts with remnant inventory moves to cookies, retargeting, spyware, on through independent, then agency demand-side platforms, supply-side platforms, to consumer backlash against display.  After an obsession with RocketFuel (as if it were some seminal moment in ad tech), he moves to the perceived safety of Google and Facebook -- although he notes that in "In 2017...each would become embroiled in multiple display advertising scandals."

Mendez ends with the ominous note that the EU has just passed laws protecting the collection and use of personal data collected on the Internet.



While this is a good read,  it is nearly 2,200 words -- and if the internet has taught us anything else (other than that its display advertising pretty much sucks) it is that nobody reads anything longer than 100 words any more. And if you're under, say 19, you don't read at all, only watch video.

So as a public service, I am reducing the history of display advertising down to a few easily digested bullet points:

The first ad runs on the web in 1994. Ten years later, multiple companies will claim to be running "billions" of ad impressions hourly, reaching 12 times the population of the entire planet. The click-through rate remains at 1994 levels.

The competition to attract user web page attention grows, so agencies come up with ads that make no sense (why smack the monkey?) and are so annoying that rules are passed to ban them. Not going quietly into that good night, ad companies respond with ads that pop up and over content consisting largely of spyware. They get banned too.

Then, retargeting famously serves you shoe ads for a month after you decide NOT to buy them.

All this pisses off users, who grow to hate all forms of internet advertising. They write their congressmen and ask, can you stop these guys from invading my privacy and selling my identity like pork belly futures?

Legislators fail to comprehend the gravity of this and allow the Interactive Advertising Bureau and others to beat back legislation that might have stopped ad tracking via cookies. Users download ad blockers.

2006 is declared "the year of mobile," indicating it's possible folks might find going online with their phone more convenient than sitting at a desktop. But no one can figure out how to design a mobile ad that doesn't further piss off everybody. And it will be a good decade before mobile advertising becomes a real thing, and then only thanks to Facebook and Google.

It turns out that users, easily addicted to likes and shares, seem not to mind ads in their social media feeds.  Brands take notice and tell their agencies, if they don't want to be replaced by a consulting firm, they had better step up spending on social and search. Facebook and Google's share of the online ad market takes off like a newly charged Tesla.

Meanwhile, someone at Amazon surmises that the company's scorched-earth retail model can be applied to the newspaper, grocery and ad businesses. At first everyone cheers an alternative to the duopoly, then realizes that it is only a precursor to a triopoly.

Perennially asleep-at-the-wheel agencies awake to find that their programmatically run ad campaigns of five billion impressions reach only 150 real people -- and that their checks are going to bot-makers.

Through it all, ad-tech vendors laugh with forced vigor at Terry Kawaja's video parodies to assure not being left off one of what devolves into 20 or 30 Lumascapes.

Somewhere along the way, there is a "shift to video," but nobody knows what that means -- except that now their content is interrupted in the middle instead of the start. Banner blindness spreads to video frames.

Brands start the glacial shift back to television, since at least there ads won't run next to Isis beheadings or Roy Moore endorsements.

OK, that was more than 100 words. But at this point you'd only be a third of the way through the Jonathan Mendez blog.
2 comments about "A Brief History Of Internet Display Advertising -- And The People Who Hate It".
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  1. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, December 8, 2017 at 9:32 a.m.

    Hi George -- been a big fan of your writing forever -- still am -- but I read Jonathan's blog post and it was the single best piece of writing I have ever digested on the evolution of this industry and the many issues that remain unresolved -- he is also one of the nicest and smartest guys I have had the pleasure of meeting.  He has no "claim to fame" he built a really smart company from scratch -- you should have included a link back to his post so your readers who want to invest a little more time on the subject can be rewarded.  Have a nice weekend.  

  2. George Simpson from George H. Simpson Communications, December 8, 2017 at 10:23 a.m.

    There is a link in the word "history" in para 1. Thx.

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