The Birth of The World Wide Web and Banner Ads

1994 was a watershed year in pop culture and tech history. “Pulp Fiction”, “Forrest Gump”, “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Jurassic Park” were playing in theaters (remember those?). Twenty million people tuned into each week’s episode of “Seinfeld”. A gallon of gas cost a little more than a dollar. The must-have gadget was a pager. Richard Nixon died and Justin Bieber was born. 

The new decade also witnessed the publication of the very first digital ads. Wired Magazine unveiled on October 27th, 1994 which included an AT&T banner ad which posed a very basic question: “Have you ever clicked your mouse right HERE?”. The ad answered its own question by placing an arrow pointing at bold white text stating that “YOU WILL”. The paradigm shift that followed Tim Berners-Lee’s 1989 advent of the “World Wide Web” upended life as we knew it, and those repercussions are being felt to this very day.

Advertising’s Red Headed Step-Child

Fast forward to 2020. Billions of dollars have been spent on advertising campaigns in the quarter-century that followed AT&T’s first stab at online advertising, but most consumers have trouble remembering even a handful of them.

The average consumer is now bombarded with more than 1,700 banner ads every month, but only see half of them, often for just a fraction of a second. Most significantly, less than a dozen media companies have emerged from the tech battlefield to wield staggering power and influence over every aspect of consumer decision making.

I’ve sold banner ad inventory for almost two decades, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned is that this format is not going away, at least anytime soon.


Because programmatic display and mobile phones make for a nearly seamless, brand-driven delivery vehicle, and that trend is accelerating as we become inseparable from our portable devices. 

Advertisers can now reach consumers practically anywhere they go, at any time of the day. Sure, there are a multitude of challenges facing the industry including ad blocking software, privacy regulations and content saturation. However, none of these challenges pose an existential crisis and all of them present us with an opportunity to hone our craft and messaging strategies.

For brick and mortar businesses, it’s especially critical to optimize ad delivery to potential consumers located in an establishment’s primary market area, which tends to encompass a three to five-mile radius. Mobile device targeted geofencing campaigns allow advertisers to focus their ad budgets directly on devices found within their primary market area, which can include customer residences and competitor locations. 

Furthermore, mobile device location data is available for advertisers to track the movement of devices from targeted business locations as well as those of their competitors. Device tracking provides uniquely powerful insights for local businesses to better understand and predict physical visits to locations and market share. Those insights provide us with a wealth of key metrics, which advertisers apply directly to their banner ad strategy. 

Let’s Get Contextual 

Most consumers don’t actually dislike ads. In fact, 83% wish they’d just be able to see the ads from brands they’re actually interested in rather than just blocking all of them. According to the IAB “total media consumption is at an all-time high (now at an average of 48% of our day) which means marketers deliver 1-1 messaging as a norm.” Meeting consumer demand is an area where digital marketers are making steady progress:

  • Display ads are now targeted to consumers based on their unique online browsing behavior. Ad targeting is increasingly able to discern what consumers are interested in before actually serving them a relevant ad
  • A consumer’s physical location provides us with another invaluable metric used to determine what consumers are searching for. For example, identifying consumers who are comparing several jewelry stores in a target area also makes for a desirable audience for related physical goods and services including florists, bridal boutiques, caterers, nail salons and more

It’s a Mobile Word After All

It bears repeating that our industry will remain in a state of rapid change as we continue to adapt and refine technological innovation and respond to cultural changes, including COVID-19. 

AT&T was right. Consumer behavior changed permanently after 1994. We now “surf the web” all day long, except we do it on our phones, banner ads and all.

Stay creative and stay safe. 

Bobby Youngs,
Founder, Canopy Advertising 

Sources: comScore

Recent Posts