20 Years of Digital Advertising: From Banner Ads to Sponsored Snapchats

A landmark birthday

Headshot of Christopher Heine

AT&T ran the first banner ad two decades ago today via the then-popular Web browser Netscape, which offered a palette of 16 colors—a fraction of what modern digital designers have at their disposal.

"It was like using a box of crayons—except there weren't even 32 colors to choose from," said Wonderfactory CEO Joe McCambley, who back then helped draw up the historic campaign for HotWired as Modem Media's creative director. While the result wasn't exactly a masterpiece, it spurred a revolution. Digital ads will hit $46 billion this year, according to the IAB.

"It's fun to joke about now because it's a banner—and no one in the world I know loves banners," McCambley said. "But we knew it was an important moment."

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.