Digital Advertising: 25 Years Old and Already the Most Dominant Force in Advertising

by Phil Duffield

Posted on 05-15-2019

From basic ban­ners to epic expe­ri­ences, here’s where we’ve been — and where we’re going.

What do you remem­ber about 1994? If you’re an ad indus­try vet­er­an, maybe you were camp­ing by the fax machine, spend­ing hours send­ing out buy orders and wait­ing for con­fir­ma­tions? Or per­haps you were mock­ing up print ads using ear­ly ver­sions of Page­Mak­er and sav­ing files on flop­py disks? Maybe you were still in school, rush­ing home so you could return in time for the start of an episode of _Pow­er Rangers _— or you were watch­ing a worn-out copy on a video­cas­sette recorder. Some of you might not have even been born yet!

It’s hard to believe that 1994—when Oasis and Blur bat­tled it out on the pop charts, and Nel­son Man­dela was vot­ed in as South Africa’s first black president—would also mark the birth of dig­i­tal advertising.

Where it all began

Accord­ing to The Atlantic, the dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing rev­o­lu­tion began with a sin­gle ban­ner ad. It was a col­or­ful, unbrand­ed call­out from AT&T post­ed on a web­site called that sim­ply chal­lenged vis­i­tors to click “right HERE.” And click they did — 44 per­cent to be pre­cise (though some claim up to 70 per­cent).

What fol­lows is a sto­ry of con­stant evo­lu­tion — two years lat­er, Yahoo! launched search ads, and in 1997 pop-up ads fol­lowed suit. From then on search adver­tis­ing key­word auc­tions came onto the scene, as well as Google AdWords and in-app and social ads.

Serving ads on a large scale

With­in a year of that first ban­ner, the indus­try tru­ly began to change. Dou­bleClick — a com­pa­ny that used servers to dis­sem­i­nate ads — launched in 1995 and enabled adver­tis­ers to mount large-scale cam­paigns instead of plac­ing one-off ads on indi­vid­ual sites.

This was the start of mar­ket­ing automa­tion — and kicked off unpar­al­leled momen­tum. Dou­bleClick was fol­lowed by the advent of search adver­tis­ing and Google AdWords. These tools helped dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing scale and inter­net-based ad rev­enue tripled every year — from £90 mil­lion in 1995, to £280 mil­lion in 1996, to £880 mil­lion in 1997.

Soon adver­tis­ers began focus­ing on ana­lyt­ics and mea­sure­ment to jus­ti­fy ad spend­ing, and that became even eas­i­er to track with the intro­duc­tion of social shar­ing sites. Video and social media plat­forms — includ­ing YouTube and Face­book — changed online adver­tis­ing pro­found­ly. Adver­tis­ers were able to inte­grate brand mes­sag­ing seam­less­ly with the audience’s organ­ic online social­is­ing. It became a two-way street, as view­ers began inter­act­ing more inti­mate­ly with brand mes­sages, while brands began per­son­al­is­ing mes­sages for their audi­ences. Fast for­ward to 2019 and spend­ing on dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing in the UK will exceed tra­di­tion­al ad spend­ing by the end of the year, accord­ing to eMarketer.

Adobe’s role in digital advertising

This was just the begin­ning — for the indus­try and for Adobe. Since day one, we’ve been com­mit­ted to help­ing peo­ple cre­ate and busi­ness­es com­pete. Our flag­ship prod­ucts, Adobe Illus­tra­tor, Pho­to­shop, and Pre­miere Pro were already on the mar­ket when the boom hit — with After Effects released soon after. They were the per­fect match for the bur­geon­ing indus­try to bring cre­ative visions and mes­sag­ing to life.

2000s, as dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing evolved, we expand­ed to offer a suite of ad man­age­ment, deliv­ery, and mea­sure­ment solu­tions. And to fur­ther empow­er cus­tomers, we brought on capa­bil­i­ties for dig­i­tal pho­to soft­ware, busi­ness process man­age­ment soft­ware, and 3D col­lab­o­ra­tive software.

Our largest and most game-chang­ing addi­tion of was Omni­ture, a web ana­lyt­ics firm. This was a major step for­ward for Adobe Ana­lyt­ics and our future data-dri­ven solu­tions. Web ana­lyt­ics has become the engine behind online mar­ket­ing — allow­ing com­pa­nies to tar­get their mes­sages to their audi­ences and dri­ving cus­tomer engage­ment and loyalty.

In 2016, we launched Adobe Adver­tis­ing Cloud — an inde­pen­dent plat­form to man­age the entire ad cam­paigns. As dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing evolves, we con­tin­ue to find new ways to help our cus­tomers build amaz­ing con­nect­ed omnichan­nel expe­ri­ence every­where, and embrace today’s mar­ket­ing tech­nol­o­gy to more effec­tive­ly reach audi­ences and meet busi­ness goals.

As Adobe has sup­port­ed the evo­lu­tion of dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing, it has also cement­ed its region­al pres­ence across the globe, sup­port­ing dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion at a grass­roots lev­el. Adobe in Europe is going from strength to strength and our part­ner ecosys­tem in the region now includes over 12,800 agency, solu­tion and tech part­ners. In the UK, Adobe recent­ly announced a £63.5m invest­ment in its local oper­a­tions, with com­mit­ment to grow its work­force by over 20 per­cent over the next three years.

The next 25 years

Today dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing finds itself at a cross­roads. On the one hand, innovation seems bound­less as the indus­try rede­fines itself with new tech­nol­o­gy like arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI), aug­ment­ed real­i­ty, vir­tu­al real­i­ty. Mar­ket­ing teams are striv­ing to become more cus­tomer-cen­tric, going to great lengths to gen­er­ate con­tent that is per­son­alised to a consumer’s spe­cif­ic needs and interests.

How­ev­er it’s hard to deny the indus­try is fac­ing chal­lenges. Dig­i­tal ad fraud is con­stant­ly grow­ing and pre­dict­ed to cost over-the-top (OTT) video adver­tis­ers up to £9 bil­lion annu­al­ly by 2020. New dig­i­tal media have offered mar­keters end­less plat­forms to con­nect with their audi­ences, but it has also made it dif­fi­cult to remain con­sis­tent and rel­e­vant. So-called walled gar­den envi­ron­ments have fur­ther com­pli­cat­ed things, as some online plat­forms have elect­ed to horde user data, restrict­ing brands from cru­cial infor­ma­tion that could help them deliv­er con­tent bet­ter suit­ed to audiences.

In recent years the top­ic of dig­i­tal pri­va­cy has also start­ed to fuel con­cerns, as social plat­forms and online media out­lets have proved them­selves unable to secure their user’s infor­ma­tion. This is great cause for con­cern for brands wish­ing to adver­tise on these plat­forms with­out com­pro­mis­ing the pri­va­cy of their own users. This is all the more crit­i­cal in Europe, where fresh­ly enforced GDPR leg­is­la­tion has raised the stakes even high­er for brands.

Adobe and the future of digital advertising

Here at Adobe, we’re absolute­ly ded­i­cat­ed to the future of dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing. We under­stand that the future is becom­ing increas­ing­ly com­plex. In the next 25 years, we’re tak­ing on these com­pli­cat­ed chal­lenges with easy-to-use solu­tions that will dri­ve mean­ing­ful and con­nect­ed dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing expe­ri­ences to the right audiences.

We believe that the best way to han­dle an indus­try that is chang­ing at a break­neck pace is to be part of that change and con­sis­tent­ly push the bound­aries of what is possible.

It’s our tech­nol­o­gy and cre­ativ­i­ty that will help shape dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing and even as the future changes and new plat­forms emerge — like voice-based devices, IoT devices, and alter­nate real­i­ties — we will con­tin­ue to put cus­tomers at the centre.

Let’s con­tin­ue our jour­ney to the past and find out even more about the future.

Check out our anec­do­tal his­to­ry of 25 years of dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing in the UK, Ger­many, and France.

Topics: Adobe Summit, UK, UK Exclusive, Digital EMEA