Hidden Stories About the Early Days of Digital Advertising

I got into the whole advertising game back in 1996 or so, which was about the same time that advertising really embraced the digital channel. There was something great about those times, as everyone tried everything. It was pretty wide open and all sorts of experiments went on. Some worked and some just didn’t. I remember a bunch of stories, but there were still more that had to be discovered. I spent a little time collecting some early stories of digital advertising. Please add your own!

The First Mobile Ad Was via Finnish News Service
The growth of mobile was rapid, but not necessarily distributed. Here in the U.S., we saw a slow rollout of “car phones” in the ‘80s and ‘90s. But we seemed to be addicted to talking on them and texting adoption was slow. Texting was also something that kids in Europe or Asia did. It makes sense, then, that the first use of the SMS channel for a commercial purpose was in Finland, where the first person-to-person text message was sent.

There, in Finland, in 2000, a Finnish news provider began an ad-supported service that delivered news headlines via SMS. It didn’t take long for the idea to catch on. Later in that same year, a conference was held on the burgeoning practice of SMS advertising.

The particular company that sent out the actual first mobile ad is, unfortunately, lost to history. But the model of exploiting a new media channel by providing a free, but ad-supported, service certainly held strong.

Yahoo Propels Seth Godin in Their Seventh Acquisition
Yahoo has purchased more than 100 companies in their history. Some of them, like Tumblr or Flickr, are well known and continue to help drive the company. Some of them have gone away – or maybe their technologies or ideas have become ingrained in the company. Some of them help to launch something totally new.

On October 12, 1998, Yahoo bought a small direct marketing company called YoYoDyne for $29 million. The company offered a series of online marketing programs that had achieved some success during those early years. The head of the company was none other than online marketing author and speaker Seth Godin. At the time of the acquisition, Mr. Godin was going to head up direct marketing and promotions. He, of course, moved on soon enough to become the next-generation marketing luminary that we all know.

Danny Sullivan’s Real Name Revealed!
Here’s one in the spirit of things-you-probably didn’t know. Danny Sullivan has been thinking and speaking and writing about search engines for a really long time. Most people assume his real name is Daniel and that he has shortened it. Not true. His actual, real name is “Danny” (at least according to his Wikipedia page).

“Daniel Sullivan” is either an Alaskan republican or an American film director.

Why Is It Called “Java”?
Java made a pretty big splash when it first appeared. Java is a programming language built very much with the Web in mind. When it was released, the Web immediately transformed (in people’s thinking at least) from a way to distribute content to a way to distribute services. I’m writing this article on Google Docs, for example. That would have been an unthinkable idea before Java came out. There are definitely other languages in use now, but Java really turned our thinking around about the Web, and what we could do with it.

But why is it called Java? That is another story where the exact truth is a bit murky. What is clear is that the language was originally called OAK, but the legal department at Sun (where Java was created) told them that the name was already taken. The team working on the language got together and brainstormed up 10 new names. Of those, seven were taken, leaving only DNA, Silk, and Java. The team chose Java. Some team members have claimed that they had a greater hand in the naming than others, but that’s not clear.

The name Java, though, is interesting for a number of reasons, the primary being is that it is a brand name. It doesn’t clearly connote what it is, like HTML. It is a technology that was given a name that was bigger than just what it did.

By the way: one of the potential names that was brainstormed was Ruby.

You Could Have Gotten the Web on Your TV in 1996
It’s true. WebTV was a technology developed by Zenith and a small company called Diba Inc and was eventually bought by Microsoft.

You Could Have Gotten Wireless Internet in 1994
It’s also true. A company called Metricom, located in Los Gatos, California (which is not far from Cupertino, California), launched a service in 1994 called Ricochet. They put wireless Internet transponders on thousands of light poles throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Dallas, and a number of other cities. Using a special modem you could connect at 56.6K speeds from anywhere. They even had a way to connect a Newton PDA.

I used this service. I loved it. I clearly remember having my PowerBook with a Ricochet modem and sitting in a coffee shop, reading Salon back in probably 1997.

Wow, I’m old.

Thanks. If you enjoyed this column, please let me know. I have other stories that I would love to share.

Image via Shutterstock.

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