“The One Show’s first interactive category was introduced in 1996. Images of the home page with access to the web site address open a window to cyberspace that may well predict the future for the new advertising medium.” – The One Show, Vol. 18

Quite frankly, none of us knew what we were getting into. In 1996, the Internet was a kind of deux machina that was going to solve every marketing puzzle. Ad agencies immediately carved entire divisions dedicated to building websites, populating trendy open-floor office spaces with programmers fresh out of tech school. A hipster’s knowledge of HTML coding could reasonably earn you the title of Interactive Creative Director. 

The agency that employed me had plans to buy the Interactive Department a conversion van. With the team’s logo airbrushed on the side.

Our interactive department never received their van. Instead, the website boom suddenly settled and the digital medium was recognized as less of a savior and more as a very valuable tool in a marketing plan’s arsenal.

The One Show’s gee-whiz attitude in 1996 reflects the attitude of the era. Consumers could now interact with brands in ways we had hardly begun to contemplate, and we were all desperate to find a secret to controlling the power.

Upon further review, the first-ever One Show Interactive series aged far worse than the sections for print and even television. Consider how the entries are displayed: screen shot of the homepage pulled from a Netscape browser. Netscape!

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“I’m not even sure what Netscape is,” says one of the more youthful members of the Stone Ward digital team. Perhaps observing the sharp crease in my khaki pants, she waits expectantly for an explanation from me. I have no answers, though. Even to a man as old as me, Netscape seems more like a bizarre dream.

The interactive entries themselves are possibly more arcane. Fallon McElligott’s page cheerfully welcomes you to the site with a collage of clipart links. The Stoli Central site invites you to add their site to your “personal hot list.” Coca-Cola wisely spoofs the eclectic confusion, confessing that nobody in their midst really had any idea how to build a cool website. So they just put up a bottle of Coke and hoped for the best.

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Flipping through the 1996 Interactive section feels like advertising archeology.  One almost expects to trigger a booby trap with every flip of the page. Were it a graphic charting the evolution of man, the Interactive Section would fall somewhere between ooze and amoeba. And yet, one can glimpse the future with a single glance at Levi Strauss’ entry, which was awarded One Show Gold.

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Grids! Yes! 1996 is 2015, but with less plaid. There was nothing responsive about web design in 1996. But without even realizing it, Foote Cone & Belding was ahead of the curve. Perhaps it was constructed using futuristic alien technology.

“Man, I’m not even sure how they built this thing,” says another Stone Ward digital team member. He stares slack jawed at the page, like a modern engineer marveling at the Great Pyramids of Egypt.

Levis Strauss homepage, 8th Wonder of the Ancient World.