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Banner Ads and Affiliates – Part 1: The Early Days

by Dave Tinneny | 27.07.2012
“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago” – Friedrich Nietzsche


This is a short series about banners, their impact on performance marketing and the future for this tried and tested medium.


Imagine this for a moment – It’s 1969 and you’re a student programmer at UCLA working on something called ARPANET (The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network). That summer, man had walked on the moon for the first time and by December the foundations of the modern internet were already in place. ARPANET was the proving ground for one of the greatest technological achievements of modern times… the internet.

Ground breaking experiments at ARPANET lead the way and those pioneers are directly responsible for the careers of everyone in my office. To be right at ground zero contributing to this achievement must have been incredible.

Now, fast forward to 1992. While you’re enjoying the latest long haired, flannel shirted guitar band from Seattle, a man called Tim Berners-Lee, then working at CERN, uploads the first photograph to the internet. This is a pivotal moment for a number of reasons, although the significance was not apparent at the time. This was the moment that the internet changed from a serious scientific research community, to a place where you could engage with people though media. The first image? It was for a cheesy band called ‘Les Horribles Cernettes’ who were trying to get additional promotion for one of their live shows.

Fast forward again to 1994, specifically October 27… You’re still upset over that shotgun accident in April, which resulted in the death of the singer from that band you started listening to a couple of years ago. You stumble on a cool site called Hotwired, where you see this…





This is the world’s first banner ad. It was part of a campaign for US telecoms giant AT&T. This again was another pivotal moment for the future of the internet, economics, commerce, business, psychology, design and any number of other fields. I see this as the true birth of performance marketing (take note PPC fans, this is 1994, Google are still 8 years away from launching a PPC offering).

How did it perform? Frighteningly well… It had a click through rate of 78%! Current stats from DoubleClick/Google suggest that the current average is less than 0.07%.

By the end of that same year, the first affiliate networks were operational and the internet had finally realised it’s potential to marketers.    

Banners went on to fuel the dotcom boom at the turn of the century. Affiliate marketing developed right alongside this and both influenced each other. I doubt anyone at UCLA in 1969 could have predicted the carnage, spam and user unfriendliness of what happened next.

Performance marketing has been ingrained in the internet since that first banner ad in 1994 and in my next post I’ll be exploring how this impacted the entire internet, along with the possible future of the humble banner as we know it. Stay tuned affiliate fans…