Anyone who pays attention to digital marketing today knows that the landscape changes quickly. Long gone are the days when the only way to attract customers on the internet was to flash an annoying pop-up ad in their face. Especially thanks to the recent – and rapid – development of artificial intelligence (AI), online display ads are becoming more advanced and more effective than ever.
However, in order to understand how display advertising has become the thing it is today – and where we might expect it to go in the future – it can help to have an understanding of just how far it has come. Read on to learn more about how display ads have evolved over time, and how you can expect them to transform even more in the future.
In the Beginning: The Origin of Display Ads
According to a history of internet advertising done by HubSpot, the first display ads appeared online on October 27, 1994. The ad was a banner, and it read, "Have you ever clicked your mouse right here? You will." The banner appeared on HotWired (one of the first online web magazines), and it became a spot where companies could place advertisements – and a means of generating some revenue for HotWired, so they could pay the people who wrote for them. AT&T was the first company to advertise with the banner ad, and eventually 13 more companies paid for the space as well.
For the original banner ad, like the one on HotWired, advertisers paid for the amount of the time their ad creative was displayed. Companies liked the idea of banner ads because they could make money for what they were doing online, they could promote other companies and they could do it without really disrupting what they were trying to show internet users.
Display Ads Develop
Once banner ads became popular, they began to develop in complexity. At first, companies began to help advertisers make sure they were placing their banner ads on sites that made sense. Then, other companies helped advertisers measure whether their ads were effective – or not.
In 1997, a new type of display ad appeared: the pop-up. The pop-up ad allowed for display advertising, but it separated the ad content from the page it was hosted on. That way, the two companies could keep their messaging separate. Pop-up ads were popular at first, but after a few years, internet users grew tired of the disruption and they began to rely on pop-up blocking technology. The popularity of traditional banner ads waned as well, and companies saw lower and lower click-through rates and ROI.
The Development of Targeted Display Ads
As digital advertising competition grew more fierce, companies needed to think of ways to stand out and promote effectively. One of the first companies to do this was called Doubleclick. They decided to look at real data, then optimize ad placement based on that data. While Doubleclick wasn't able to bring back the success of banner ads or pop-ups, what they did was open the door for one of the most powerful display advertising strategies: targeted advertising, where the right content is shown to the right people in the right context.
Doubleclick developed a technology called DART (Dynamic Advertising Reporting and Targeting). That was just the first of much, much more complicated technology that could analyze data and make strategic advertising decisions. As machine learning and artificial intelligence have developed, companies have been able to harvest data about ads and consumer behavior then use insights about it to make smarter and smarter decisions.
Display Advertising Today
Today, digital display advertising has elements that remain from its development more than 15 years ago. Some companies still place (or offer) banner ads – and now, companies can take advantage of retargeting technology, which ensures that the ads they see in these banners comes from a business they've previously visited or expressed interest in.
Also, there many analytics tools that allow people to see how their display ads are performing with precise metrics. This allows them to alter their advertising creatives and placement in order to make their efforts as powerful as possible.
Finally, display ad formats have greatly diversified. Companies today can place ads in a much wider variety of formats -- beyond simple banners or pop-ups. Today, display ads exist (and incorporate targeting and retargeting technology):
• On social media platforms, like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and more. When you use display ads on social media networks, you can also take advantage of tools like remarketing and analytics to ensure your ads are performing as well as they possibly can.
• As pre-roll videos on platforms like YouTube
• In mobile apps
• Via networks like the Google Display Network, which allows you to place display targeted ads throughout a Google user's Internet-using experience – based on behavior in places like YouTube, Gmail, search, and more. (Alternatives include Bing! Network and Conversant).
Also, display ads are no longer just static. They can be rich media ads – which incorporate multimedia or interactive elements, which engage Internet users more than traditional display ads.
The Future of Display Advertising
Display advertising continues to be a powerful way to reach potential customers, but thanks to the rapid advancement of technology, there are new methods and techniques for getting your advertising content out in front of audiences. Here are some of the best.
• Programmatic advertising: Advertisers are already relying on programmatic advertising, which uses data to automatically buy and place highly targeted ads. This trend will continue into the future, making display ads more effective – and the process of online advertising more hands-off – than ever.
• New formats: Companies continue to come up with new ways to show display ads. One new type of display ad growing in popularity is the Outstream video, which allows you to play a video ad outside of a video player (e.g. in a line of text).
• Mobile advertising: Today, advertisers are focusing on mobile ad spend. By 2019, experts predict that marketers will spend more on mobile advertising than they do on all other types of advertising – combined.
• Programmatic creatives: In the future, ads won't only be bought and placed by computers. The creative in those ads will also be designed by machines, which can understand what kind of ad content best resonates with what kind of people (and where).
Display advertising is one of the cornerstone marketing techniques for digital marketers. However, tackling display advertising means something totally different today than it did originally. If you have an understanding of how digital ads have changed throughout the years, you can appreciate why the technique is now even more powerful than ever – and you just might be able to imagine how incredibly effective a strategy it will remain as we proceed into the future.