O’Reilly Media launches Global Network Navigator, the first online web publication to offer on-site advertising in the form of clickable links. Within months, 45 companies were buying ads on the site.
Google launches its “content-targeting advertising,” later renamed AdSense. This new product allows the platform to read the words on a page, then match relevant display ads to that page. The push puts at least one internet giant squarely in contextual advertising’s corner.
AT&T, determined to position itself as a facilitator of breakthrough tech, pays HotWired.com $30,000 to place the first ever “banner ad” above its site for three months. The ad read, “Have you clicked here? You will.” We did. The ad scored a 44 percent click-through rate.
May 25, 2018:
By the mid-aughts, advertising technology was exploding. Companies offering behavioral and contextual targeting solutions promised to multiply advertisers’ return on investment, and online marketing was already becoming a quagmire of new terms. What’s more, social platforms were about to generate more data about what consumers did online than had been digested in the last 25 years. Now buried in metrics and their acronyms, marketers were left wondering what to do with it all.
Internet giants and advertising technology companies have built a beautiful machine, turning data and web traffic into consumer attention and return on investment. But the data they’ve collected is unevenly applied, sometimes with a blind eye to environment and sometimes by strategists who understand the environment all too well.
In the beginning, the World Wide Web was formless and empty, fan sites and personal home pages covered its surface, and commerce hovered on the periphery.
Online browsers Netscape and Mosaic incorporate the cookie, code intended to distinguish between online shoppers that advertisers would soon use to track consumer behavior across sites.
Apple releases the first iPad, giving mobile marketers an even larger canvas to play on. Like the iPhone though, there’s no cookie capability, meaning behavioral targeting won’t work. Unable to track customers or calculate granular ROI, advertisers are wary of investing too much money in those flashy creative campaigns.
Meanwhile, Yahoo! invests in contextual advertising, striking an ad with Google to run AdSense ads on its pages.
Firefox, Google Chrome, and Microsoft announce their browsers will include a do-not-track feature that disables cookies. The following month, U.S. House of Representatives introduces two privacy bills. One would enforce a "Do Not Track" mechanism, the other would require opt-in consent for ads. The industry continues to fight for self-regulation, even as privacy concerns hit a fever pitch.
The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations go into effect. Online publishers and marketers must effect sweeping changes in how they collect and use personal data, including asking consumers to opt-in to communications, keeping data collection focused and safe.
Major advertisers begin incorporating SMS into creative campaigns. Pontiac’s “Catch a G6” campaign asks consumers to text pics of their new G6 for a chance to win $1 million. Nike prompts Times Square pedestrians to design custom sneakers, connected their phones to digital billboards via SMS. Both use environmental context in digital marketing.
The contextual ad market is forecasted to be worth $126 million. But it won’t be your dad’s context. Buoyed by artificial visual intelligence that “reads” the words and pictures on a page, and analytics tools that help calculate ROI, contextual advertising is likely to be reshaped by digital’s programmatic past.
Companies like Mastercard and Zima are now paying GNN up to $11,000 a week to reach their 400,000 visitors. Four-year-old Internet startup America Online takes notice. By the end of the year, it has acquired GNN’s audience for $9 million in AOL stock, $2 million cash and an additional $3 million investment in O’Reilly Media.
Search giant Google pushes into display ads when it buys DoubleClick for $3.1 billion. Google puts the ad exchange on steroids, allowing buyers to find the consumers they want on any web page using precise behavioral targeting. While a boon for long-tail publishers, legacy titles soon find it harder to woo advertisers with promises of premium content and rarefied audience.
Google and other advertising companies are caught tracking the web-browsing habits of iPhone users by inserting a piece of code that tricks the Safari web browser into disabling privacy settings.
Facebook makes it easier to target ads by giving advertisers access to its treasure trove of demographic data. Businesses of all sizes can now seek out their ideal customers with just a click and a credit card.
Apple updates the Safari browser to reject the cookies that enable marketers to track consumer behavior online. Safari accounts for just 4 percent of online traffic, but the move still deals a blow to third-party data dealers.
Major advertisers pull their ads from YouTube when they appear next to extremist content. The problem isn’t the platforms; it’s the buyer philosophy—use behavioral targeting to They find eschewing more expensive context advertising comes at a cost.
A Consumer privacy study by TRUSTe finds that 93 percent of online customers are worried about data security and privacy. A similar study shows 57 percent of consumers don’t trust brands to keep their information safe.
The Guardian first reports that third-party data consultants Cambridge Analytica is harvesting Facebook data without users’ permission on behalf of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. Facebook refuses to comment, except to say that it is investigating.
Facebook, the second largest social platform after MySpace, signs Microsoft to provide search and advertising listings to its 9 million users. Those users have all inputted personal information like age, location, relationship status and interests into their profile, making the site an audience targeting dream. Meanwhile, marketers are setting up their profiles, vying for attention with pictures, quizzes and other content tailor-made for the site.
Pocket-sized mobile phones put a mass-communication device in millions of hands. Text messaging—or SMS—debuts in 1993, is clunky and slow. Consumers are sending just .4 messages per month. However, for companies who want to reach people directly, SMS opens a direct line to individual consumers.
Facebook shutters Beacon after it settles a lawsuit alleging the product violated several privacy laws, including the electronic communications privacy act. Critics said the hamfisted product interfered with people’s self-presentation, turning into shills against their will. For better or worse, they've lifted the veil on behavioral targeting.
Retargeting goes wide. Previously deployed by only a handful of brands, Yahoo is the first major online site to offer advertisers the chance to target ads to consumers based on where they have “surfed” on the web. Google follows.
Google launches AdWords, its own contextual search ad platform.
Three global newspapers—The Observer, The New York Times and The Guardian—break the news that third-party data consultancy Cambridge Analytica harvested the information of 50 million Facebook users to build a “psychological warfare tool” that benefitted Republicans in the 2016 election. The news sparked public outcry, political debate about data use and misuse, and tarnished Facebook’s global reputation. Shares tank by more than $100 billion, the company is heavily fined, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg must testify before Congress.
Facebook acquires Microsoft’s advertising platform, Atlas. The new infrastructure allows Facebook and its advertisers to track how consumers interact with ads served across the web, giving them a window into how off-platform ads lead to purchases.
DoubleClick launches, providing marketers with data about what sites users visit, when and which pages. For the first time, they can target ads based on consumer behavior instead of site content.
AdSense turns 10, a much different business than it was at launch. Initially a way to put text-based contextual ads on a site, it is now the publisher-facing name for Google’s self-serve ad network and earning at least $2 billion per year.
Yahoo! pioneers search engine advertising with a keyword-based targeting option. Advertisers can run banner ads alongside results for particular terms, paying for the contextual placements on an impressions basis.
A Finnish news service seizes the opportunity to push headlines, brought to you by a key sponsor, to its subscribers. The Mobile Marketing Association holds its first conference.
GoTo.com, a 25-person startup, introduces the pay-per-click keyword auction model for search engines. While Yahoo! acquired GoTo.com the following year, it didn’t implement the model until several years later.
If forecasts are accurate, the contextual advertising market has grown by about 19 percent to $297 billion.
Facebook announces “Beacon,” an advertiser platform that tracks users’ actions on other sites. The program allows users to see what their friends were doing and buying online and causes a privacy uproar. It’s dead by 2010. It’s not the last time Facebook’s data business will come under scrutiny.
The New York Times reports that Target, eager to hook parents-to-be, sewed family discord by sending diaper coupons to a pregnant teenager. The big box chain used a combination of behavioral data and predictive analytics to infer the glad tidings; it just didn’t know her dad would be opening the mail.
Heretofore the domain of artists, academics, technologists, and early adopters, the commercial web evolves when early mammoths like AOL, Compuserve, and Netscape give users an onramp to the information superhighway. The number of websites proliferate, creating a need for search engines.
Traditional media companies pull their audiences—and their advertisers—online and advertisers follow. By 1999 online advertising is a $1 billion industry thanks to brands that buy ad space pretty much like they always did, based on context and audience size, aka site content and high visitor tallies.
Marketers introduce SMS short codes, allowing for the quick redemption of mobile offers.
Apple’s ITP, the EU’s GDPR, Cambridge Analytica’s propaganda machine, and YouTube’s brand safety scandals all landed significant blows to the targeting techniques that had become the lifeblood of programmatic advertising. Context is again king: publishers with valuable first-party data, direct programmatic enablers, and buying tech underpinned by artificial visual intelligence are rising to fill the void left by now diminished behavioral models.
Through The Web (P)Ages
By 2010, online ad spending has surpassed newspaper ad revenue. Marketers keeping a close eye on ROI are seduced by cheap impressions provided by programmatic advertising and its grist—behavioral data. On the upside, behavioral targeting has allowed marketers to create an individualized experience for consumers. But consumers are getting creeped out. Are the ads for that Toyota Yaris...tailing me? Yes. Yes, they are.
Apple releases the first iPhone, a device that turns cell phones into handheld multimedia platforms with instant web access. Digital marketers clamor to create campaigns that play well on these small screens. Without cookies to track consumers across the net, they again fall back on contextual advertising.