A quarter of a century ago, the haunting melodies on The Cranberries' No Need To Argue were rapidly going multiple platinum. Theaters were corralling lines of moviegoers eager to see Pulp Fiction. Children and adults alike were a) wearing head-to-toe sunflower print and b) buying investment Beanie Babies by the dozen.
And on the home computer—that blocky behemoth that took up a corner of the living room—things were rapidly evolving.
Once you got past the chirping whirr of the dial-up, you could order delivery pizza online…as long as you lived in Santa Cruz, California, that is. Webcrawler could connect you to one of a staggering 4,000 websites using the power of full text search.
And on October 27, 1994, the world's first banner ad appeared on HotWired.com.
It's not a moment that a lot of people think of with fond nostalgia. In fact, the banner ad is often thought of annoying at best, damaging at worst.
But Mat Bennett, Co-Founder of OKO, suggests celebrating the existence of the banner ad. He also suggests spending a moment thinking of how banner ads have shaped and improved the browsing experience for users worldwide.
In an opinion piece for The Drum, he writes:
"Ads support the online content we consume. Without advertising to support online business, it is estimated that the average American internet users would need to pay $420 per year to pay for those ad-supported services. That is a lot of value that variations of banner ads currently contribute a very large proportion of. Whilst a small proportion of users might be happy to pay that sum to avoid banner ads, reducing that to a dollar value greatly undersells the benefits of providing that value without a cost to the end-user.
The biggest of those benefits is the democracy that a free, ad-supported web offers. A banner, or the page serving it, doesn’t care whether you are prince or pauper when you access ad supported content. I’m not aware of any website that restricts content based on the bids they receive for an impression, so banners and other digital advertising work not only to keep content free but to keep it open to all.
The idea of an ad-free “pay to play” internet also ignores the practicalities of that. Whilst some users might be willing to pay for an ad-free experience on the sites they access daily, the model falls apart when it comes to the long tail of the web. The website that settles a pub argument, a local forum of the town you are visiting, the odd niche site that explains your child’s maths homework problem to you and the thousands of other sites we use but have no need to return to.
These sites don’t fit a subscription model and are even more reliant on the pennies that arrive through banner impressions. That vibrant, independent, free and open long tail that exists outside of corporate ownership only continues to do so thanks to the humble banner ad.
We want to echo Bennett and say thanks to the humble banner ad. And on October 27th we'll put on a ridiculous party hat, eat some sheet cake, and belt out "Happy Birthday To You" in honor of the banner ad.