Adtech evolution/
History 1994-2021

Blog by the WhizzCo Team

A quick history of digital advertising

it’s advertising that pays for all the free content that we now expect and enjoy online. But to best serve the internet and its users, and to continually provide better user experiences, online publishers and advertisers should understand how we got here and why. So here goes, a history of advertising technology, from the earliest days to now. (Download a PDF version of the Adtech Evolution here)

1994
1994
The first banner ad
The first banner ad was published on HotWired.com, the precursor of today’s Wired. AT&T paid $30K for the ad to stay on the top of the site for 3 months. The ad achieved a whopping 44% CTR (vs today’s .05% average CTR). The ad linked to this landing page.
1995
1995
The first ad networks
Advertising networks started sprouting up in 1995-1997. OKO Ad Management notes that the first such network was operated by an ad agency called Webconnect. They sought to place ads on the websites that would most interest their clients’ target markets. The ad network served as a broker and could package and sell leftover ad space at a lower fee.
1996
1996
The advent of ad servers
1996 brought the welcome development of ad servers, which provided advertisers and publishers with more accurate information as to how their campaigns were faring. Doubleclick (not yet owned by Google) was the first such network. They could measure ROI, and the technology enabled the introduction of the CPM (cost per 1000 impressions) pricing model.
1996
1996
The introduction of keyword-based advertising
Open.txt was the first to try it, but their project did not prove successful. The concept was picked up by GoTo.com in 1998 and about a year later Yahoo launched its own keyword-based ad program.
1997
1997
Sixdegrees.com pioneers the idea of social networking
The idea that we are all six or fewer social connections away from each other served as the basis for Andrew Weinreich’s social networking site. At its height Sixdegrees.com, the very first social media site had 3.5M users.
THE RISE OF SEARCH ADVERTISING
2000
2000
Organic search and search advertising
In the early 2000s, Google introduced AdWords, initially using a CPM model, and then migrating to the cost-per-click (CPC) model a few years later.
AdWords served text-based ads, instead of the banner ads that were prevalent until that point. They based top results on a combination of user experience, interest, and payment.
2000
2000
The first ad-funded social media site
Lunarstorm launched in Sweden on January 1, 2000. The social networking site’s daily polling question used to be answered by 150K users at its height and by 2005 ad income reached $600K.
2002
2002
The advent of Adblockers
Adblockers entered the scene in 2002 when young software developer Henrik Aasted Sørensen created Adblocker 0.1 as a side project during his time at Firefox to weed out some of the bad players in the advertising market. Since then adblockers grew popular among users, significantly impacting publishers’ earnings.
2003
2003
Google acquires AdSense
AdSense, a content targeting advertising program was acquired by Google in 2003, broadening Google’s offering. From then on Google could serve text, banner, video, or interactive media ads to its network of publishers.
2005
2005
YouTube’s first video ads
YouTube was launched on April 23, 2005 with co-founder Jawed Karim’s post, Me at the zoo (a 19-second video still available on the site). In November of the same year, the first ad - a Nike commercial featuring Ronaldinho - ran on the site.
2006
2006
Content recommendation advertising is born
In 2006 a new kind of advertisement was born - native content recommendation. Outbrain, and the other vendors that followed, found new use for the less expensive ad placements below-the-fold and end-of-article. Instead of placing a large banner, they placed groups of articles - with more options to click - to attract the reader. And it worked. Native ad vendors function in the same way as an advertising network - by brokering between advertisers and publishers.
2007
2007
Facebook launches its ad platform
Starting in 2007, companies could create business profiles on Facebook. This new feature coincided with the launch of the Facebook Ad Platform. The platform offered accurate targeting to businesses based on the users’ actions and interests.
2008
2008
Real-time bidding (RTB) emerges
Real-time bidding (RTB) emerges and advertisers buy impressions through real-time auctions via demand-side platforms (DSPs).
Real-time exchange
Real-time bidding was a major step forward for the adtech industry towards a seamless, open ad serving process. With real-time bidding technology, winning ads can be served after an open auction and without latency.
SOCIAL MEDIA GROWS UP
2010
2010
Twitter offers promoted tweets and accounts
In 2010 Twitter launched its promoted tweets, trends, and accounts offerings. Disney-Pixar was the first to use this advertising option to drum up interest ahead of the release of Toy Story 3.
2011
2011
The term ‘native advertising’ is coined by Fred Wilson
2013
2013
Instagram introduces advertising
The first Instagram post was shared on July 16, 2010 by Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger. The company was purchased by Facebook in April 2012 for $1 billion. The first ad (a sponsored post by Michael Kors) appeared in users’ feeds on November 1, 2013.
2015
2015
Header bidding democratizes the programmatic market
Header bidding popped up in 2015. With this new auctioning technique publishers could offer up most of their inventory - but not content recommendation ads - to multiple ad exchanges, at the same time.
Transparency
Header bidding opened up the programmatic ad market for true competition. With header bidding inventories are filled after the demand-side providers placed their bids. The process takes milliseconds but ensures that publishers close on the highest bid, every time.
2016
2016
Google and others create the Coalition for Better Ads
The Coalition for Better Ads was formed to improve consumer experience and demonstrate self-regulation. The organization sets ad standards based on consumer insights and industry expertise.
2018
2018
GDPR changes the advertising game
The EU introduced its own set of rules and regulations regarding the collection and handling of personal data in 2018. The General Data Protection Regulation was first published in 2016 and officially implemented in 2018. The GDPR was the first in a series of legislative initiatives around the world.
Ad quality and privacy
With the imminent loss of third-party cookies and losing information from IP addresses, the industry is heading towards a significant shift, challenging advertisers and publishers to find new ways to deliver targeted, quality ad experiences.
2020
2020
Native advertising ad spend hits $52.75 billion
While in 2016 native ad spend stood at a yearly $16.7 billion in the US, by 2020 it increased by 315% to $52.75 billion. However, the native content recommendation space lacked the infrastructure on the supply side for open competition - any form of bidding - for publisher traffic. In most cases, publishers are limited to working with a single vendor.
2021
2021
WhizzCo enables bidding for content recommendation ads
While the display ad market was opened up in 2015 with header bidding, the native recommendation field never made the leap towards supply-side platforms. WhizzCo introduced a vendor-agnostic platform where all content recommendation vendors compete for a publisher’s traffic, requiring only a single integration. WhizzCo’s proprietary neural network technology predicts the winning bid from among the publisher’s vendor portfolio.
Why is competition important in the native ad space?
While there are smaller and larger vendors - no one vendor will offer the best CPM every time. In fact, data shows, that even the best performing vendor will only offer the highest result about 40% of the time.