The (Mostly) Wonderful History of Digital Marketing

The history of digital marketing is filled with success stories, tales of destruction, flourishing and withering industries, clever minds, new beginnings, and similar patterns. With no sign of slowing anytime soon we have taken a few snapshots of the ride so far. This post orginally appeared on the MintTwist website.

1472: Way Back When — Traditional

With the invention of the printing press in 1440 by Holy Roman Empire Johannes Gutenberg, businesses began plastering posters on walls and doors within their communities. The first poster advertisement in English was placed on church doors in London in 1492.

1650: Strayed or Stolen — Traditional

In 1650, the first newspaper advertisement appeared. If offered rewards for 12 stolen horses.

1893: The Very First Catalogue — Traditional

Sears, Roebuck and Co., now American department stores, issued the first catalogue.The catalogue featured sewing machines, bicycles, sporting goods and cars.

1897: SEO Best Practice?— Content Marketing

In 1897, the original content marketer John Deere published ‘The Furrow,’ a magazine for farmers. In hopes of being a resource to his customers, the content was educational, teaching farmers how to be great business owners.

OG Content Marketing

1898 AIDA Model— Traditional

E. St. Elmo Lewis, an American advertising advocate, developed the AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) model. This maps a theoretical customer decision journey, from the moment a brand or product attracts consumer attention to the point of action or purchase. This ‘Buying Funnel’ is still used today.

1922 First Ever Radio Commercial — Traditional

America’s airwaves changed forever. New York radio station WEAF broadcast the first paid radio commercial for the Hawthorne Court Apartments in Jackson Heights.

1941 First Television Commerical — Traditional

The first TV advertisement aired in the US on 1st July, 1941. It was a 10-second advertisement by Bulova, a watch and jewellery company founded in New York. The advertisement wasn’t filmed, but used only graphics and live voice-over.

1955: First Television Ad, UK — Traditional

Television advertising in Britain began on 22nd September, 1955. The first commercial was for Gibbs SR toothpaste. It featured a tube of toothpaste, a block of ice and a commentary about the product’s “tingling fresh” qualities.

1969: The Foundation of the net — Technology

On 1st October 1969, the first ‘Advanced Reseach Projects Agency Network,’ the precursor to today’s internet, communications was sent between Kleinrock’s lab at UCLA and the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) under the direction of Elizabeth Feinler. It was an early packet switching network and become the foundation of the Internet.

1970: E-Commerce Comes Out — Ecommerce

In 1970, eCommerce was invented. The magic behind this is ‘Electronic Data Interchange’ (EDI), an electronic communication method that provides standards for exchanging data through any electronic means. This allows companies to carry out electronic transactions.

1971: The Very First Email — Email Marketing

While working on ARPANET, the precursor to the internet, Raymond Tomlinson invented email. Initially messages could only be sent and read on the same computer. It is believed the first email message Tomlinson sent was the top row of keys on the keyboard — QWERTYUIOP.

1978: The First Mass Marketing Mail Sent

In 1978, Gary Thuerk sent an email promoting DEC machines to 400 users via ARPANET. It resulted in $13 million worth of sales for DEC machines (and a few complaints!). From the start, email launched itself as an effective channel for direct marketing.

1979: Online Shopping — Ecommerce

Michael Aldrich, an English inventor and entrepreneur, invented online shopping, known originally as teleshopping. Aldrich’s system connected a modified TV to a real-time processing computer via a domestic telephone line. It enabled online transaction processing between consumers and businesses, or between one business and another, a technique that evolved into eCommerce.

Aldrich with an interesting typing technique.

1980: Microsoft Operating System Developed

MicroSoft Disk Operating System, MS-DOS, was an operating system for x86-based personal computers mostly developed by Microsoft. It was the most commonly used member of the DOS family of operating systems and was the main operating system for IBM compatible personal computers during the 1980s and the early 1990s.

1984 The Mac is Introduced — Technology

Directed by Ridley Scott, Apple introduced the Apple Macintosh personal computer in a commercial that’s only national airing was during the third quarter of the Superbowl XVIII. English athlete Anya Major performed as the unnamed heroine. She represented the coming of the Macintosh as a means of saving humanity from “conformity”. The theme of the commercial was an allusion to George Orwell’s noted novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

1989: World Wide Web is Born — Technology

In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist at CERN, invented the World Wide Web (WWW). It was originally developed for meeting the demand for automatic information-sharing between scientists in universities and institutions around the world.

1990: The First Website Is Launched — Organic Search

On 20 December, 1990 Tim Berners-Lee launched the first website, which was hosted on his NeXT computer. It described the basic features of the web; how to access other people’s documents and how to set up your own server.

The orginal skeleton

1990: The First Search Engine is Created — Organic Search

The original implementation was written in 1990 by Alan Emtage, then a postgraduate student at McGill University in Montreal, and Bill Heelan, who studied at Concordia University in Montreal and worked at McGill University at the same time. It is a tool for indexing FTP archives, allowing people to find specific files. Due to limited space, only the listings were available and not the contents for each site.

1993: The Birth of the Online Ad — Paid Advertising

Global Network Navigator was the first commercial website to sell a clickable ad. Sold to the law firm Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe, the ad linked to a news centre and product catalogue.

1994: The First Blog Arrives — Content Marketing

Credited to Swarthmore College student, Justin Hall, currently an American journalist and entrepreneur, the blog begun as a web-based diary.

1994: Coining Banner Advertising — Paid Advertising

In October 1994, the founders of Hotwired were brainstorming ways to pay their writers when they lit upon the idea of selling ad space in large quantities. Thus the term ‘banner advertising’ was coined. AT&T were one of the first companies to purchase ad space to promote themselves in the web magazine.

AT&T claim they had “78% click through rate” on this ad

1995: Here Comes SEO — Organic Search

The first recorded use of the term ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ was by John Audettes. The meaning of SEO has evolved and changed over the years to now refer to webmaster-provided information like meta data, keyword density, technical SEO and other on-page factors.

1996: Online Ads Leap Forward — Paid Advertising

DoubleClick, an online ad-services providing agency provided online advertising, creating a way to track banner ad clicks and consumer behaviour so that return-on-investment (ROI) could be properly reported.

1998: Then There Was PPC — Paid Advertising

Big things! In February 1998, Jeffrey Brewer of, a startup company, presented a concept that would evolve to become PPC advertising at the TED conference in California.

1998: Page Rank is Introduced — Organic Search

The first of many Google metrics to be introduced is PageRank, an algorithm used by Google Search to prioritise websites in their search engine results. Named after Larry Page, one of the founders of Google, it works by counting the number and quality of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of how important the website is.

1999: Web Feed Formats Launch — Technology

RSS is the first version of the web feed formats used to publish frequently updated works in Netscape. RSS feeds enable publishers to populate and publish information automatically. Additionally, RSS feeds provide users with to-the-minute updates from favoured websites.

1999: Vicotria’s Secret hits a million — Ecommerce

In 1999 the underwear industry changed for good with the release of the Victoria’s Secret website. In the same year, Victoria’s Secret’s 30 second Super Bowl advertisement led to one million visits to the company’s website within an hour of airing.

1999: Blogs Become Legit — Content Marketing

Prior to 1999, the word “blog” didn’t exist as a colloquial, used word. However, it officially became defined in 1999.

2000: Google Adwords Launch — Paid Advertising

Google AdWords launched with just 350 customers. The self-service ad programme assists Google in monopolising search engine rankings, by providing advertisers with specific keyword targeting and performance feedback.

2000: Dot Com Bubble Bursts — Technology

On March 11, 2000, technology shares began to fall as the dot-com bubble burst. The dot-com boom lasted only 3 years, from 1997 to 2000. Silicon Valley had a 17% declination in high-tech industries and lost 85,000 jobs.

2001: Launch of Mail Chimp — Email Marketing

MailChimp, an email marketing service, was founded in 2001. Beginning as a paid service, it is now the world’s leading email marketing platform. By 2014, the platform was sending out over 10 billion emails per month.

2002: MintTwist is Born

Founded by childhood friends Alexis Pratsides and Elliott King, our full-service digital agency based in Kentish Town, North London now boasts over 20 digital strategists.

2003: Google Launches AdSense — Paid Advertising

Google AdSense is an advertising placement service. The platform allows publishers to present specific advertisements on specific website pages with the aim of earning revenue every time a visitors views or clocks the ad.

2003: The Favoured One — Technology

WordPress, the most used and user friendly blog-writing channel, is launched in 2003. The emergence of this simple PHP platform allows everyone easy access to create and share.

2003: MySpace Bursts Onto Social — Social Media

One of the first social networking sites, MySpace offered users the ability to share personal profiles, photos, music and videos. Additionally, MySpace provided users the space to engage with groups and blogs. In 2006 in the U.S, the social platform was more visited then Google. It was acquired by News Corporation in 2005 for $580 million.

2003: Why Hadn’t I Thought of That? — Social Media

In late 2002, Reid Hoffman recruited a team of old colleagues from SocialNet and PayPal to work on a proposal he had recently brainstormed. And just six months later, LinkedIn was launched. Who needs business cards?

2004: The Big Dog Rolls Into Town — Social Media

Facebook was launched by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg, as a social networking platform to upload one’s personal profile and virtually connect with friends. With 1.65 billion users today, Facebook was initially limited to Harvard students and then to those who attended a higher education institution in the U.S. It was made public in September 2006 to everyone with a registered email address.

The screenshot of the Facebook

2004: MOZ is Released — Organic Search

Rand Fishkin launched SEOMOZ, now known only as ‘Moz’ in 2004. Since its introduction, it has become the SEO industry authority to determine a site’s rankings for search engine optimisation. Although companies were once only concerned with having “good” SEO, now relevant content must also be considered for searchers and site visitors to enhance the user experience.

2005: The First YouTube Video — Technology

YouTube, the second most used search engine after Google and the most popular video-sharing website was launched in February 2005 by three former PayPal employees. It was later bought by Google in October 2006 for $1.65 billion. The ‘Me at the zoo’ video started it all off.

Just as riveting as todays content

2005: Google Analytics is Released — Analytics

For digital marketers, Google Analytics was just the tool needed. Providing data on a site’s visitors customer journey and behaviour, the service was offered by Google in November 2005. Now, companies can view and report upon their online marketing campaigns and turn insight into appropriate action.

2005: Combating Spam at the Front Line — Organic Search

The NoFollow tag is created to disavow un-trusted inbound links. Webmasters are given greater control to stop spammers from directing useless traffic to their sites’.

2006: YouTube's First Advertisement — Social Media

In 2006, YouTube entered their first advertising partnership with NBC. Gone are the days where users could view a YouTube video clip without pressing ‘Skip Ad’ after 5 seconds of an advertisement playing.

2006: Twitter is Born — Social Media

Twitter, the up-to-the-minute, topical social channel, was launched a decade ago in 2006. Today, the platform has over 310 million monthly active users. The 140 character limitation for tweets was based on the site being founded as the ‘SMS of the Internet.’

Candice setting the tone for future Twitter users.

2007: Facebook Features Paid Adverts — Social Media

Facebook’s social adverts aim to make ads seen on the platform much more relevant for users of the site. They are served dependent upon user interests and actions their friends have taken.

2009: Buy with Bitcoins — Ecommerce

Bitcoin is introduced as a digital currency. Invented by Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin requires no middleman but allows transactions to occur between seller and buyer directly.

2010: Promoted Tweets — Social Media

Making it easier to reach potential customers, Twitter launched promoted tweets. Promoted tweets allow brands and companies to boost organic tweets with a small budget.

2010: The Birth of Pinterest — Social Media

Joining many other start up tech companies in Sillicon Valley, Pinterest is born in March 2010. The platform revolves around photo sharing, encourages its members to group ideas together in mood boards and inspires fellow registered Pinterest members.

2011: Google’s Panda Algorithm — Organic Search

Constantly testing and releasing new algorithms to guarantee that searchers receive the most relevant information, Google launched its latest algorithm, Panda. The algorithm requires sites to feature rich content.

2011: Snapchat is Launched — Social Media

Snapchat, an incredibly popular social platform with younger audiences, is launched. Snapchat is an instant image massaging channel, created by students from Stanford University.

2011: Real-Time Analytics — Analytics

Google’s Real-Time analytics provides up-to-the-minute data on what is currently happening on a brand or company’s site or app. Data is updated seconds after an action is taken on the site or app.

2012 Google Penguin Algorithm — Organic Search

In April 2012, Google launched the Penguin update. This latest algorithm allowed the search engine to better catch sites that resulted in spammy search results, especially sites that used blackhat means to receive inbound links.

A few people felt the rath of the Penguin chainsaw Massacre

2012: Facebook Launches Promoted Posts — Social Media

Paying as little as $5, with Facebook’s new advertising option, advertisers are able to reach more fans to promote their page content, with promoted posts shown on the regular News Feed.

2012: Smartphones Taking Over — Email Marketing

A significant 40% of consumers check and read their emails through their smartphone. This requires brands and companies to up their mobile marketing and mobile optimisation, to guarantee that traffic to site converts accordingly.

2012: Facebook Buys Instagram — Social Media

Facebook purchased Instagram, the popular photo sharing social network for $1 billion. Mark Zuckerberg stated, “We plan on keeping features like the ability to post to other social networks, the ability to not share your Instagram on Facebook if you want, and the ability to have followers and follow people separately from your friends on Facebook. This is an important milestone for Facebook because it’s the first time we’ve ever acquired a product and company with so many users. We don’t plan on doing many more of these, if any at all.”

2012: Online Ad Spend Sk— Paid Advertising

It was the first time, since digital advertising became an option for brands and companies, that the budgets advertisers spent online tops advertising spent in traditional mediums, such as newspapers.

2013 Instagram Now Sells Ad Spend — Social Media

Instagram started selling ads in late 2013 to top brands such as Levi’s and Disney. The advertising options include photos, video ads to direct web links.

2013 Google Introduces the Disavow Tool — Organic Search

Google introduced ‘Disavow Tool’ to assist websites maintain page rankings despite spammy and poor authority inbound links.

2014 Facebook Launches Video Ads — Social Media

To stay on equal footing with the various ways to advertise on social media, Facebook released a new way to advertise on the platform- premium video ads, each 15 seconds long.

2014 Google Pigeon Is Launched — Organic Search

Google’s most recent algorithm update changed local search results and modified how location search queries are understood by the search engine, making it easier for users to discover what was “near them.”

2014 Facebook Buys Whatsapp — Social Media

Facebook bought Whatsapp, the mobile-messaging channel, for $22 billion in 2014. At the same time, the tech start-up had 400 million active users. In 2013, the platform generated $10.2 million revenue.

2015: Facebook Reach 1 Billion Users — Social Media

In a landmark achievement, Facebook is the first social network to hit 1 billion active users in a single day. Congratulations!

2015: Youtube Launches ‘Red’ — Social Media

Subscribers of YouTube Red can pay and watch videos without having to view any ads. Users no longer have to wait 5 seconds to skip ads and watch YouTube videos with no interruption, instantaneously.

2015 Instagram Ads for All — Paid Advertising

Instagram advertising, which was previously only available to large brands, is now rolled out for all brands. The Facebook advertising platform is used for audience targeting, so advertisers creating ads don’t have to worry about learning how to target audiences on a new channel.

2016: Online Ad Spend Reaches New Heights — Paid Advertising

Global ad spend on desktop and mobile now accounts for 28% of all advertising spend — more than newspapers, billboards, magazines, radios and cinema.

This Timeline originally appeared on the MintTwist Blog. We are full service agency based in sunny London. Our mission is to become partners to our clients by forging digital transformations.