what does advertising on the web look like?
Internet advertising had very unglamorous beginnings. The first Internet ads were spam,
sent through email in the early 1990s before the World Wide Web—the network of web
pages that we access with our web browsers—even began. These ads took advertising
back to basics, but as the web skyrocketed in popularity and the technology developed,
Internet advertising could be more visual and interactive, and the medium attracted more
established brands. In this exhibit, we will explore the progression of online advertising from
spam to social media, and the invention of special marketing techniques for the web.
Where do we see ads on the web today? Of course, many websites have banner-
style ads around their content. We may also see advertisements when we search in a
search engine, or on social networking sites. How are these ads different from those in print
or on television? For one thing, an advertisement on the web can serve as a direct link to
an online store or a corporate website, so many ads try to present us with a reason to click
through, rather than an abstract reinforcement of a brand image. Also, web ads are
increasingly customized to match the audience—the ads you see may be influenced by
your search or browsing history (Turow, 81-91). This exhibit will explore the technology and
the theory behind targeted web campaigns. Advertisers have attempted to harness the
“viral” nature of content on the web by creating branded content, like special games,
contests and videos, to make their product or their image more attractive to consumers. We
will take a closer look at brand websites and the ways in which the line between advertising
and content has been blurred on the web, especially for children.
We will conclude by looking at ads on Facebook and other social networking
websites and asking what we might expect from the web advertising of the future. How will
advertisers harness the power of our identity and our social connections on the Internet to
sell things better? And in what ways can consumers resist the spread of ads on the web?
The first advertisements on the internet appeared more than a
year before Internet Explorer was released1
"pages" on the web became commonplace. The ad above,
presumably for a Green Card scam, comes from Google's Usenet
archives, a primitive, email-based network of early internet
adopters. A cynical recipient of the original message
responded, "You mean that this isn't an advert disguised as
public information then?"
first mass commercial email
Like American ads at the very beginning of the 20th century,
early web ads were heavy on text and often sought to explain
their product to an audience unfamiliar with concepts we now
take for granted, such as eCommerce websites (Strasser, 1-8).
All of the text in this ad, for a now defunct online store,
linked to the store itself--a novel concept for advertisers at
Samsung FOCUS Flash ad
Today, ads on the web are much more eye-catching. Many ads are
actually small flash applications, like this Samsung ad which
features a short video right next to static content with links
to the Samsung landing page. In terms of branding, the ad is
not significantly different from non-web advertising--the
product name was chosen strategically to sound fast and high-
tech, and the video ad could just as easily have run on
television (Danesi, 38-51). However, the media and the
presence of direct links differentiate it from a traditional
What is different about the
ad to the right, for a web
publishing company? Notice
the AdChoices logo at the
top. This ad was displayed
because the computer that
loaded the ad had a cookie
stored on it, indicating that
this computer had visited the
blurb homepage. When clicked,
the "AdChoices" icon gives
the user a chance to opt out
of "interest based
advertising" like this.
What is a "cookie?" A cookie is a plain text string, stored
somewhere on your computer. Your browser yields the cookie when
a website asks for it. This cookie, above, is from NetFlix.com.
Cookies change the way we use the web by providing websites
with a way to remember us. Some say that companies of the
future will be able to use our cookies to create a segmented
advertising culture that will exclude "undesirable" consumers
google dvd ads
google search, 2011
Some ads appear in the results when you use a search engine
like Google. Search ads look much more like the MSN eShop ad
from 2000--heavy on text with one main link. These ads are
less sophisticated in appearance, but they are far more
targeted to consumers looking for particular products.
Searches like this create cookies that might be used for
marketing on other sites.
Like the He-Man television shows of the 1980s, web content
today can be used to make a product more appealing to the
consumer. By building free flash games around Barbie, Mattel
can engage children and enhance the experience of owning the
doll itself. Some studies suggest that children are less
equipped to distinguish advertising from entertainment2
barbie dream party game
Entertaining content designed to market a brand, however, is not
limited to children's products. In the summer of 2011, Smirnoff
Vodka partnered with Madonna and used YouTube as a platform for a
dance contest; above is the winning submission. The campaign
worked to imbue the Smirnoff brand with a sense of youth and
celebrity, using the "viral video" platform to reach a target
"lil buck, 23, USA"
The final frontier in today's digital
advertising sphere is social media.
Like cookies, the information on your
Facebook account could help
advertisers target your needs in terms
of specific products, or attract you
to their brand by showing you which
friends have already given their stamp
Advertisers have always grappled with consumer avoidance of
ads, most notably on television after the advent of TiVo
(Turow, 40-44). Consumers avoid ads on the web, too--by
clicking away or, in some cases, by downloading software to
block ads. Add-Art is an application that replaces ads on
the web with art that changes weekly.