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 released 1 and browsing "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 usenet, 1994 source
eShop ad msn.com, 2000 source 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 that time.
Samsung FOCUS Flash ad YouTube, 2011 source 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 print ad.
blurb ad grooveshark, 2011 source 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.
netflix cookie netflix, 2011 source 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 (Danesi, 74-91).
google dvd ads google search, 2011 source 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 entertainment 2 . barbie dream party game barbie, 2011 source
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 audience.
facebook advertising facebook, 2011 source 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 of approval.
add-art addart.org, 2008 source 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.