In Internet advertising jargon, an "impression" is defined by Wikipedia as

the display of an ad to a user while viewing a web page.

The word is most often used in the term Cost-per-Impression (CPM), the amount of money an advertiser spends for every 1000 views.

According to Reference.com, "impression" is defined as

the first and immediate effect on an experience or perception of the mind

What does the word "impression" have to do with Internet Advertising?

Who coined the term, and how did it come about?


2 Answers 2


It is a continuation of usage from the legacy (print) advertising. An impression is a single publication of an advertisement, derived from the platen making an impression on paper in the letter press system.

It is not related to the impression it makes on the viewer/ user/ potential customer.

  • "Not related to the impression it makes on the viewer..."? Except that this is exactly how it is used today. I think the OP wants to know when the transference occurred.
    – Robusto
    Commented May 1, 2012 at 19:09
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    @Robusto: If a transference occurred, it looks like it happened a LONG time ago. Apparently, the word has been used in both senses for centuries. I like how Kris quickly and astutely pointed out that, in advertising jargon, the word is related to the media, not the mind.
    – J.R.
    Commented May 1, 2012 at 19:27
  • @J.R. Then what does it mean to talk about "viewer/reader impressions" if not that? Surely we're not talking about printing presses and platens at this point.
    – Robusto
    Commented May 1, 2012 at 19:30
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    @J.R. Yes, exactly like 'upper case'. Most do not know the association with wooden type cases in two-tier.
    – Kris
    Commented May 1, 2012 at 19:40
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    @kris, thanks for your response, although if the answer was 'obvious,' to me, I would not have asked the question. Assume that what's obvious for one person may not be to another. Commented May 1, 2012 at 19:57

There is an unfortunate error in the original question. "Cost Per Impression" is not "CPM", as if "M" is a phonetic abbreviation for "impression". The "M" is "thousand" from the Roman Numeral, which long predates the use of "K" (Kilo) for "thousand" so "CPM" is "Cost Per Thousand (impressions)", where the "impressions" implied.

In advertising, CPM is often the billing unit, CPI is rarely if ever used, and this applies to print as well as internet. If you book an ad campaign for your car or scotch to be in every Conde-Nast publication in the US, your billing will be based on the total number of magazines sold (or maybe printed, as in the original meaning of "impression", impressing the image onto paper), regardless of the circulation of the individual magazine titles.

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