Observed: A Decade in the Life of Website Advertising

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Prior to heading up to the cottage last summer, I decided to scour my video library and bring along a couple of time-shifted videotapes of early nineties movies. Over the years, I’ve amassed an interesting (to me, anyway) collection of obscure foreign films and documentaries, most of which I’ve taped off of regular broadcast television, commercials and all.
I forget exactly which movie I was watching, but I distinctly recall feeling that there was something very odd about the television commercials. Yes, they were about ten years old, so the fashion and hairdos were a sight to behold, but there was something else about the commercials that I couldn’t put my finger on.


After about the tenth commercial, it hit me. These commercials were pre-Web. Since they were from the early nineties, at no point during the commercials did a Website address ever get displayed. At the end of most of the commercials they’d display the advertiser’s logo, but it would be displayed by itself or, on the rare occasion, above a toll-free phone number. There wasn’t a single Website address to be seen in any of these commercials.
Viewed through modern eyes, these commercials struck me as incredibly quaint, and somewhat ineffective. They get you all jazzed up about a company or their product, and then the only way you can respond is to visit the advertiser’s retail establishment (if you can find one) or call them on the phone. But what if you don’t live near one of their stores? Or if it’s after hours?
The next videotape from my library that I watched had even more interesting commercials, although this time I was on to what was happening. This was clearly a movie time-shifted a few years later during the height of the Dotcom craze. Every other commercial was for Pets.com or some other high-profile (although short-lived) Website business. Once again, I was struck by how odd this now seems. When was the last time you saw a TV commercial for a Dotcom?
These days, Website addresses appearing during and at the end of TV commercials (not to mention within television shows themselves) are common, so common, in fact, that we now take them for granted. It’s hard to imagine an advertiser who can afford to advertise on television a) not having a Website, and b) not taking advantage of the power and reach of television to promote their Website during their TV commercial.
Consider how far we’ve come in the space of just ten years. From no mention of a Website in a TV commercial, to commercials devoted exclusively to Websites, to Website addresses commonly displayed at the end of commercials, Websites (as marketing vehicles and even companies in their own right) have emerged from the shadows of obscurity and earned their rightful place on television.
I wonder how quaint my time-shifted videotapes from 2005 will look like when I’m at the cottage ten years from now? That is, if I can find a VCR that still works!

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