It is rather difficult to imagine the modern Internet without some form of banner advertisements. However, these web banners are a relatively new term, even though they are so popular now. At the same time, web banners spearheaded the growth of paid advertisement segment on the World Wide Web, among many other achievements, which makes it a topic worth expanding upon further.
Banner advertisement, also often referred to as web banner advertisement is one of the most commonly used forms of advertising on the Internet. These web banners are embedded into some sort of web page and their primary goal is to attract traffic to a specific website by linking the banner image with said website.
It is fairly common to see banner Internet ads being delivered by centralized ad servers, and a lot of companies tend to use various advertisement networks instead of placing ads directly into each and every website. That way, the company exchanges a part of its potential revenue for better ad placements all over the Internet – this scheme is called “revenue sharing” or “revshare”.
Banner ads work the same way as traditional ads do, to a certain degree – both advertisement types are either serving as a notification for the customer about the existence of a specific product or providing reason or reasons for the customer to purchase said product.
However, this is where the similarities end, since only web banners can be targeted to the specific interests of a user – with the ability to monitor and modify those targets in real time. Behavior tracking as a whole is usually performed with the help of “click tag” – a specific parameter of HTML5 Internet ads that can be used to provide advertisement networks with various metrics about the banner in question – number of clicks, where they came from, and more. This information is crucial when it comes to the ad network evaluating the effectiveness of the current advertisement campaign.
As with many other relatively new technologies, the absence of any kind of standard led to a lot of ad networks inventing their own variations of banner Internet ad format, creating over 250 different ad sizes before the first standardization attempt was made. This attempt was performed by IAB – Interactive Advertising Bureau – who developed an industry standard that suited most companies all over the world (even though there are still quite a lot of exceptions).
This same standard was modified multiple times since its first introduction, resulting in a modern list of ad standards that is relatively short and only includes seven different entries:
- Half page – 300 x 600 px
- Wide skyscraper – 160 x 600 px
- Leaderboard – 728 x 90 px
- Button 2 – 120 x 60 px
- Micro bar – 88 x 31 px
- Rectangle – 180 x 150 px
- Medium rectangle – 300 x 250 px
It is worth noting that entries such as Wide skyscraper, Leaderboard, Medium rectangle and Rectangle were on the list since its first iteration, while other banner types were added later. There were also several other banner variations that were deprecated as time went on, be it because of the general user screen size progression or because of some other reason.
That’s not to say that this is a definitive list of advertisements, either. IAB works hard on adapting to changes in the world and inventing new regulations and guidelines. For example, 2015 was the year when IAB introduced HTML5-friendly creative advertising guidelines for both mobile and desktop devices. 2017, on the other hand, was a bit richer in terms of newer technologies and standards, introducing adjustable advertisement formats, AR and VR digital content experience guidelines, mobile video, social media advertising, 360 degree advertising, and so on.
Standardization is a positive event for the entire industry, there is no doubt about that, but standards always have to remain up-to-date with current trends and changes in the industry, which means a constant process of evolving and changing. Additionally, a lot of ad networks tend to offer their own variations of web banners that are not on the list of standards, because some banners can perform well only in specific areas – countries, languages, and so on.
That’s not to say that online banners can only be used for advertisement purposes. There is an entire separate category of banners called “hero images” – they use large pieces of media, be it images, videos or graphics in the most noticeable parts of the website purely for aesthetic reasons.
At the same time, not every banner Internet has to be just a static image – there is a category called “live banner” which consists of advertisements that are capable of dynamically changing their contents depending on several factors. Some of the more common technologies used to create these animations are Java, Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight – combining sounds, videos, images and text messages to attract people’s attention.
Web banners are widely considered some of the biggest contributors to the rise of paid advertising all over the World Wide Web. The first company to use the technology that is later going to become what we now know as Internet advertisement was Prodigy – a company co-owned by Sears and IBM, which used online promotion as the means of promoting specific products (the first company to be promoted that way was Sears).
However, this particular novelty was noticed rather quickly by multiple competitors of Prodigy, including AOL – one of its prime competitors. All of these companies also started rolling out online advertisements, while Prodigy was not able to capitalize on their position as the first company to do this ever.
At the same time, while Prodigy was the first one to go into online advertising as a whole, the first clickable ad was created several years later, sold by GNN (Global Network Navigator) in 1993 to a relatively small law firm called Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe (currently defunct). GNN is considered one of the first commercial websites in the world, while also being the #1 web publication in the world that was supported commercially.
For a relatively long time period, the company called HotWired was considered to be the inventor of the entire concept of web banner and banner advertisement on the Internet. This same website is also widely credited to be the first example of a website that sold digital banners in large quantities to multiple clients and advertising companies. HotWired was the first ever company that was able to provide CTR (click-through rate) reports to its customers, and that same company is also the one that first coined the term “banner ad” in the first place.
At the same time, there are two opinions about what can be considered the first web banner sold to a customer. The first option mentions Coors Brewing Company as the first buyer back in October 1994, while the second option claims that the first web banner purchase was performed by AT&T Corp. in that same month – October 1994 (even though this time there was an exact date included – 27 October).
As for the definition of trackable or clickable ad, it is believed that the first mention of this particular definition was in May 1994 by Ken McCarthy, who acted as a mentor for Rick Boyce – a marketeer that was recruited by HotWired to lead their sales department. However, McCarthy claimed that sustainability would only be possible for these kinds of advertisements in a direct response model – with the capability to measure ROI for individual advertisements and not entire ad campaigns. However, as we all know, prices for banner ads are calculated according to the number of impressions that they have been able to generate.
With that being said, there is an alternative take that claims another company as the first ever company to push banner ads on their website, and that company is Time Warner, with their Pathfinder resource. This resource was a landing page that had multiple links to other Time Inc. websites – and that page also included banner ads, while being launched on October 24, 1994. A person called Bruce Judson – who was the General Manager of Time Inc. New Media at that time – is considered to be the frontrunner of the banner ad concept in this version of events.
There are also several other notable events that are worth mentioning. The first ever central ad server can be traced back to July 1995 to a company called Focalink Communications – offering online ad tracking, as well as targeting and general ad management capabilities. As for the first local ad server – it is attributed to NetGravity – with the date being just a few months away from the previous date, in January 1996.
Ad servers played a large part in the rise of web advertising in the next few years after that, and all of it served as a groundwork for the new online advertising model to be created in the early 21st century by GoTo.com, followed shortly by Yahoo! And popularized by Google AdWords. This new advertising model switched from tracking impressions to tracking general ad responses with multiple different parameters and statistics involved.
Web banners are now an incredibly important part of the overall Internet culture, capable of working for both advertisement and other reasons. The history of this term is rather interesting, and there are many different standards of banners used all over the planet, with some banner types being standardized all over the world and others being only specific for one or several countries or pieces of land.
Founder, CEO at Viewst
Victoria is the CEO at Viewst. She is a serial entrepreneur and startup founder. She worked in Investment Banking for 9 years as international funds sales, trader, and portfolio manager. Then she decided to switch to her own startup. In 2017 Victoria founded Profit Button (a new kind of rich media banners), the project has grown to 8 countries on 3 continents in 2 years. In 2019 she founded Viewst startup. The company now has clients from 43 countries, including the USA, Canada, England, France, Brazil, Kenya, Indonesia, etc.