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Oh You Pretty Things

This week sees the 10th anniversary of the first tweet and 2016 the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the IAB. Norm Johnston, Chief Digital and Strategy Officer at Mindshare asks us to spare a minute to remember these early pioneers who made our current world possible.

At 12:50pm on March 21st 2006 Jack Dorsey posted the first ever tweet. Little did Jack know that he was opening the floodgates to a decade long obsession for the media, celebrities and the growing ‘Twitterati’. Or did he?

Twitter first tweet image

Ten years before that, a dozen or so digital pioneers in the USA got together to form the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a nascent organization for a nascent business called online advertising. Did they know what they had started? Possibly not.

The IAB’s remit was to bring some order to this tiny but rapidly growing advertising niche, chiefly through industry standards.  It became the primary vehicle for this young industry of publishers and agencies with names like Organic, Modem Media, and agency.com to collectively channel the passion and the proof that this digital thing was for real – one of the reasons that Jack was able to send his tweet and why Twitter is still around today.

The IAB also brought a great deal of much-needed camaraderie to all these digital misfits. It’s hard to believe that back when I started in digital marketing in 1995, the Internet was normally at the end of the agenda for most advertisers, if it was on the agenda at all. Most of the mainstream, traditional advertising world disregarded digital, or worse disparaged it, belittling it as a bad direct response channel with little future.  It wasn’t unusual for digital departments to be relegated to the basement where they produced banners for their above-the-line brethren. Phone calls from upstairs were more often than not requests to help with IT problems. “You digital guys can fix computers can’t you?” were the single most dreaded words amongst digital marketers.

This predicament went on for years, only diminished over time by the persistence of organizations like the IAB, countless digital evangelists (like Jack), oodles of research, and of course last but not least the inevitable realization by advertisers that consumers continued to flock to the Internet in droves.

Fast-forward twenty years to 2016 and miracle of miracles everybody has found faith in digital. At the Consumer Electronics Show 2016 in Las Vegas there wasn’t a single forum, speech, panel, dinner or party that wasn’t focused on some aspect of digital and it will be the same for any consumer or technology event you attend this year. It has been a remarkable turnaround for an industry that had largely dug its heels into the ground for the first ten to fifteen years of the commercial Internet.

And it’s great. I couldn’t be happier that digital media budgets have gone from completely off the radar in 1995 to over 50% of media spend in countries like the UK – bigger than TV, which by the way is increasingly “digital” as well. I’m overjoyed I don’t need to endlessly plead with clients to think digital first. And I’m thrilled to listen to all of those former traditionalists now sing the praises of digital, not to mention apply their smarts and creativity and experience to what is still a rapidly evolving space. There is room for everyone, and indeed such broad adoption and passion was always the goal in the first place for organizations like the IAB.

So let’s take a short minute to wish Jack and the IAB a happy birthday, and acknowledge all those digital pioneers who did all the unglorified heavy lifting in those early days. Believe it or not it was those folks in the basement who built much of the foundation of advertising as we increasingly know it today, and even more so in the future. Happy birthday all you pretty things. You know who you are.