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AOL Claims Real Ad Deals For Its 'Programmatic' Upfront

Advertisers Receive Automated Access to AOL Home Pages in 2014

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AOL is claiming that its "programmatic upfront" is more than just a party.

Two brands and five agencies have committed to buy AOL's ad placements like The Huffington Post home page through the portal's ad tech products, the company said as it through its first upfront for machine-traded ad placements.

Outside AOL's programmatic upfront
Outside AOL's programmatic upfront

The deals, which AOL has secured ahead of time for undisclosed ad spending amounts, will take effect January 1, 2014.

The committed buyers – Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, LG Home Appliances, Accuen, Amnet, Havas Media, Horizon Media and MagnaGlobal – will have first dibs on AOL owned-and-operated inventory, such as the TechCrunch and StyleList home pages, through AOL's automated buying system AdLearn Open Platform.

The deals are said to be in the $10 million range for each agency involved.

AOL's AdLearn Open Platform functions like a computerized Priceline negotiator that places bids in real-time for advertisers looking to post their brand messages in a given ad slot and targeted to a specific audience. Those buys can span the desktop and mobile web as well as tablet and smartphone apps and apply to premium formats like AOL's oversized, rich-media banner Devil.

Advertisers and agencies who commit to the programmatic upfront deals will have first dibs on AOL owned-and-operated inventory, such as the TechCrunch and StyleList home pages, through AOL's automated buying system. That means if a committed agency's hypothetical florist client wanted to advertise on The Huffington Post home page on Valentine's Day it would have the inside route to that inventory and could squeeze any competitors who hadn't committed to that inventory upfront. Any non-committed advertisers are left to secondhand helpings of whatever remains available.

More upfront commitments may be on the way. DigitasLBi, Razorfish and VivaKi – AOL Networks CEO Bob Lord's old stomping ground -- are considering AOL's programmatic pitch, AOL said.

In short AOL has created a private marketplace, allotting segments of its most prized inventory for a handful of media buyers willing to commit an undisclosed spending amount, and dressed it up as a signature event. The scene at Monday night's soiree resembled a TV network's upfront presentation, albeit at a smaller scale but with a similar backing track (Robin Thicke, Iconopop, etc.). There was even a velvet rope lining advertiser and agency attendees around a block in midtown Manhattan.

During the event AOL trotted out executives from the committed agencies and their clients like Hyatt and Lenovo. Famed data journalist Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight/ESPN also took the stage.

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