AOL finally set for rich media

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While AOL's woes can be attributed in part to the anemic interactive advertising climate, the service's inability to accommodate enhanced online ad formats-known as rich media-has significantly limited the range of digital programs it can deliver to marketers. But by Sept. 1, the interactive division of AOL Time Warner hopes that will change, as engineers have worked over the last several months to modify the infrastructure that left AOL unable to run digital campaigns loaded with 3-D graphics, streaming audio and video, pop-ups and a variety of interactive promotions.

AOL's newly reorganized sales staff "is now going out and selling rich media programs. We couldn't support Flash-based [technology applications] before," said Chuck Gafvert, VP-ad technology for AOL's interactive marketing unit. "The proprietary authoring platform of the AOL service prevented AOL from accepting rich media formats," he said, which include expandable ad banners and other Flash-based applications. Eyeblaster, Bluestreak, Eyewonder and Enliven interactive advertising formats have been accepted on AOL Time Warner Web sites such as but not on the AOL service, which is text heavy and requires swift delivery of content to 34 million subscribers. The AOL service also does not accept one of the most popular rich-media formats, Unicast's Superstitial. "We are looking at how to implement it," Mr. Gafvert said.

AOL's expanded relationship with Viewpoint Corp. will enable the service to offer marketers the ability to implement in-banner, out-of-banner and beyond-the-banner programs. AOL says the technology will allow it to emulate the functionality of Eyeblaster and other rich-media providers.

A summer promotion between Warner Bros. Pictures' "Scooby Doo" and Six Flags Theme Parks integrated 3D technology from Viewpoint. The "ZoomView" application allowed viewers to get a close look at various aspects of Six Flags parks as they play a game to find Scooby. A mock-up in-banner execution for Duracell incorporated a 360-degree rotation of the batteries. A Godiva out-of-the-banner example showed chocolate truffles and invited viewers to "Experience our truffles in 3-D" by clicking on a button.

Recently, Gap's Old Navy used rich media on AOL to promote its "Rugby Bunch" campaign. "It was a great opportunity to extend our television advertising in a way that was truly interactive, memorable and fun," said Jonathan Finn, director-public relations and field marketing, Old Navy.

new ad revenue

AOL hopes such rich-media capabilities will garner new ad revenue. It will charge a premium for out-of-banner and beyond-the-banner rich-media formats. There will be no special pricing for in-banner rich media. AOL's ad and commerce revenue for the second quarter was down 42% to $412 million, or $362 million after revenue from AOL Time Warner siblings is factored out. Rich media on AOL is particularly important as the Oct. 23 launch of AOL 8.0 nears. AOL is banking on rich media, content aggregation and new features on 8.0 to lure advertisers. "Part of the resistance from marketers is the uncertainty over how to use the medium to achieve retention, trial and demand generation," said David Rheins, AOL senior VP-interactive marketing.

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