Online advertising: an opportunity to do things differently

Advertising Spaces

For advertisers, the best kind of marketing in any form features innovation, doing things differently, and being part of the latest hot trend. A well-made or timely advert can make a lasting impression or in some instances become a cultural reference point for years to come.

Both online and offline, advertising spaces and techniques have changed over time, but of course being a web-design firm (and this being an online blog), we’re especially interested in all things digital. That’s why we’re looking at some of the quirkier ideas beyond the simple ad-banner at the top of your favorite webpage.

Why didn’t I think of that?

In 2005, a student named Alex Tew made waves with the idea of ‘the million dollar homepage’ website. He created a single page website containing 1 million pixels of advertising space, sold for 1 dollar each to fund his studies. It was as genius as it was painfully simple, and it sold out having become famous overnight as the Times Square or Piccadilly Circus of the Internet. It left people everywhere thinking ‘it’s so simple, why didn’t I think of that?’

It was, however, just a product of its time, because no big brand would surely advertise like that anymore given the advancements that have been made in online advertising and marketing. It was haphazard, busy, and anything other than targeted. With the amount of data now available, especially through social media, advertisers have found means of targeting their audiences much more accurately. Would anyone even still use it today?

Taking a look at the million-dollar homepage in April 2017, I wasn’t sure what (if anything) would have survived. To my surprise, the site is still active, with every pixel still occupied by an advertisement of some kind. But there are only a few logos of any ‘big brands’ left, which is understandable. Upon closer inspection, a number of those links do not even turn out to be legitimately belonging to who they proclaim to be. For instance, mobile phone operator Orange and The Times newspaper are legitimate, but those of eBay and Yahoo redirect elsewhere.

A lasting legacy?

We are left to wonder if these pixels have changed hands since 2005 by being sold on, if they simply still belong to the initial purchaser, or have perhaps even been forgotten about a long time ago. It seems to be more a kind of online advertising time capsule, in many ways. A 2014 article by the Guardian newspaper stated that over 20% of all adverts actually lead nowhere at all, a phenomenon it describes as ‘Link rot’.  The suspicion is that Tew took his million dollars and never looked back.

The fact that it launched in 2005 shows the progress that has been made in online advertising, and indeed by the Internet, in little over a decade. Of course Tew was always an entrepreneur, and true to our expectations he swapped his life in Southwest England for the California sunshine some time ago, where he is now working on another start-up project in online meditation and relaxation.  It’s safe to say the homepage itself was a fad, rather than a sustainable source of advertising lead generation.

Making a lasting impression

We touched on Piccadilly Circus and Times Square earlier, two advertising spaces that also feature marketing strategies of a more generic and less targeted nature. They were also innovative, which makes both locations globally renowned and relevant even today. Times Square’s first illuminated sign was installed as early as 1904, whilst Piccadilly’s followed in 1908. Coca Cola have had a billboard of some kind on that London street corner since 1954. It’s hard to imagine any online marketing campaign having quite the same static longevity or iconic status.

Whilst the way in which those ad-banners are displayed has developed and improved in line with the advances in technology, the core concept at heart – mass marketing – has remained constant. The impact of it being there has stood the test of time, transcending changes in taste, fashion, and technology in a way that the million-dollar homepage never did, and importantly never intended to do.

Online, the most recent trends in marketing have been tailored to specific user profiles, the type of video being viewed, or the user’s web browsing history. This makes a great deal more sense, because targeted marketing logically returns improved engagement levels and thus greater success. However, there’s a fine line between reaching your desired audience and successful target marketing.

Sometimes the employed methods can be a turn-off for the user. One notable example is the mandatory advertising on some video hosting sites that you cannot skip for at least 10 seconds. Those 10 seconds are not very long in the grand scheme of things, but when they obstruct the user from viewing what they would like to watch, it’s hard to imagine how anyone’s reaction to the featured product could be positive. It’s a delicate balance that needs to be well maintained in the world of instant criticism via social media.

Finding an online icon

As for the future, the iconic status of those famous landmarks in New York and London mean that they will most likely stand the test of these changing times and trends for the foreseeable future. For everyone else, the emphasis is just as it always has been: to find new ways of engaging with the user, to be innovative, and more than ever to portray that it’s not necessarily all about selling a product. Messages that portray environmental consciousness, or making a positive difference in the community are just as important in the modern world.

As the world continues to innovate and push for a new way of doing things, there might be an exciting idea just around the corner. Perhaps something so iconic is about to launch online that it will still be a firm favorite in 100 years from now. It’s going to be interesting to see whom the next big idea belongs to, perhaps it’s yours…

Whoever and whatever it is, I’m sure we will all be just as infuriated by its simplicity, and thinking to ourselves once again ‘why didn’t I think of that?!’


Million Dollar Homepage:

Guardian Newspaper 2014 article:

by Lewis Dutton

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