These days, the internet is an integral part of our lives—but it wasn’t long ago that most people had never even heard of the net, let alone used it. Here are a few fun vintage ads from a time when ISPs actually had to sell people on the idea of using the World Wide Web.
Special thanks to Wired Reread, which features scans of old ads from Wired magazine back issues.
1. You Know What She Doesn’t Like
Loni here is a bad girl with no time for knitting discussions. Don’t you want to meet her? Prodigy put this sexy gal at the front and center of this ad from 1995.
2. One Free Call Gets It All
Sex sells, and so does the WWF (the previous name of the WWE). If you thought all the largely unregulated porn sites were over the top in the '90s, you obviously never saw AOL’s WWF portal that was apparently “The Hottest Place In Cyberspace.”
3. Working to Put Service First
Ah the good old days, when two business colleagues could bond by filing their tax returns together from this 1999 ad.
4. Get Flat
It seems that getting your face run over by a steamroller was an attractive option when Pipeline USA released this ad in 1995. At the time, offering a flat rate internet service was a huge deal, since most providers were charging hourly rates—so even something this hideous still seemed like an attractive offer to many customers.
5. That’s Why We Make Modems
These days, we tend to take connectivity for granted. But remember how, before the internet, you had to install the software for anything you wanted to do on your computer's hard drive? This Motorola ad might not have foreseen the popularity of social networks, but otherwise they pretty much nailed how most workers use their days on the computer.
6. Get the Most Out of It
Oh Herbie, you aren’t exactly the poster child for “the cool kids,” are you? That’s OK—as long as you can travel to a galaxy far away while your mom and dad prepare to take a real vacation. What is impressive about this 1983 CompuServe ad is that it names three things we still use the net for: travel booking, financial planning, and gaming.
7. Welcome to Someday
On the other hand, 1982 CompuServe ad writers seemed to believe that white was the only color available for home and clothing design, so they certainly weren’t able to predict everything that would happen in the future (but then again, maybe someday just isn’t yet today).
8. Some Breakthroughs Require Longer Explanations
To explain the Internet today, you’d just have to say “all the cat videos and porn you can imagine." But customers in 1986 needed a little more detailed explanation—especially since cat videos weren’t widely available online at that point.
9. People Like Us
The beauty of this ad is that it really looks like a Geocities page—random, loud, and all over the place. It’s just missing a few dozen pop up ads and some dancing hamster animations. Many of us who started using the net when this ad came out in 1997 still have a touch of nostalgia when it comes to the train wrecks that were Geocities sites.
10. There Is No Wider Door
The concept of Video On Line was pretty revolutionary in 1995, and it would be years before most internet users actually had the technology to handle video streaming in any real capacity. Even so, something about a man chewing a mouse just doesn’t scream “watch videos online” to me. But I guess I wasn’t their target demographic back then.
11. What Excites You?
This ad focused on things that excited Bill Clinton in 1998.
12. A Long, Long Time Ago
If you remember the '90s at all, you remember the constant bombardment of AOL floppy discs and CDs. Amazingly, this ad was from 1993, a year before they decided to introduce their massive distribution of over 300 million pieces of software-turned-coasters.
13. Crank It Up!
This one's not a straight ad, but it tells readers to “get real” ... if you downloaded RealAudio that is. By downloading RealAudio, you would not only be able to listen to radio broadcasts from around the globe and live sports coverage, but even the Oscar Meyer wiener song. How could anyone pass that up?
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When did you get online? Do you remember what ISP you used? Did you have a Geocities page? And what was your search engine of choice?