The optimizer will be gratis to media planners and buyers via a dedicated Web site (www.mediaspace.aol.com) and by AOL keyword search, both of which go live in January.
The AOL optimizer will enable planners to select different ad buys, target audiences, CPMs, mediums, schedules and key demographics across the offline and online entire media landscape, not just AOL Time Warner properties. The demographic- and media-specific data, supplied by Statistical Research and refreshed every six months, is based on how consumers spend their time and their media habits. The optimizer will enable planners to do a cross-media analysis to determine where best to place and weight digital media as they slice and dice the media pie.
Digital media buys remain a minuscule percentage of the overall ad budgets for all but technology, telecom and financial services marketers. Even automotive marketers, widely regarded among the savviest about investing in online programs, are only putting 2% to 3% of their media dollars toward online media, according to media agency executives.
"What the optimizer tool will be is the first step for us to say to advertisers, `Here's how you can integrate into the media mix AOL and the Internet," said Robert Friedman, president of AOL's Interactive Marketing Group. "Unlike the other optimizers which people have to subscribe to, we're going to make this available to our clients free of charge."
AOL, like Microsoft Corp.'s MSN and Yahoo!, is eager to get its share of Internet media dollars, particularly as it snares more cross-platform deals. Media planners are interested in using any tool they can get, if it will yield more effective decision-making and targeting. (See related story, P. 18.)
"I think it's a terrific idea," said Gene DeWitt, chairman-CEO, Publicis Groupe's Optimedia, but added, "When people develop optimizers of this sort it's to get more media dollars to online advertising," and in this case, he said, "to AOL ... it's not a charitable endeavor on their part, but it's a good idea."
In a tight media landscape, agencies find themselves trying to convince traditional marketers to migrate dollars online, but planning remains challenging and time consuming.
"In a cross-media deal, the challenge is how much money should go online and how much should go elsewhere. People use a multiple number of tools, I'm sure that more tools are better than less tools," said Bcom3 Group's Starcom MediaVest Group Exec VP Rishad Tobaccowala of the forthcoming AOL optimizer.
Andy Chapman, director of media operations at Omnicom Group's BBDO @tmosphere, the agency's digital arm, said the pervasive feeling among the online agency community is not enough dollars are being spent online: "These kinds of tools are hopefully an effort to quantify things a little more and to give a comfort level to agencies and clients that they're making the right decisions" with regard to digital media.