AOL Applies Ad-Tech Know-How to Ad Creation

AOL's, Advertisers' Data to Inform a Banner Ad's Contents

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The assets in AOL's banners can now be as targeted as an automated ad buy.
The assets in AOL's banners can now be as targeted as an automated ad buy.

AOL wants to apply the science of programmatic ad buying to the process of creating ads.

On Tuesday, AOL unveiled One by AOL: Creative, which is the ad-creation piece of the portal's One by AOL ad-tech stack that also includes tools to programmatically buy ads. Now advertisers in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. can target an ad's creative to their audience based on the same data they use to place those ads around the web.

At the most basic level, brands can use One by AOL: Creative to build display ads and video ads that can responsively adapt to different screen sizes. The display ads are the same content-packed banners that spun off from the oversized "Devil" format that AOL-owned content-marketing firm Pictela originally debuted in 2010. The "Devil" format let brands include a kitchen-sink of assets -- including product catalogs and social feeds -- in a banner. While Pictela's legacy lives on in One by AOL: Creative, its brand is being folded up to coincide with the new platform's formation.

"What we're trying to do is figure out how we move the industry forward, how do we make it so that these ads that we're building are actually more like microsites for our advertising partners," said AOL VP of Advertising Product Management David Miller.

AOL's ad-creative tools may seem counterintuitive given the industry's recent interest in so-called "native" advertising and the growing usage of ad blockers to eliminate traditional banners, especially ones loaded with the sort of bells and whistles that could slow page-load speeds.

According to Mr. Miller, AOL's interactive banners "are built to support that type of communication" with an audience that brands are flocking to content-based native ads to engender. As for the ads' impact on page performance -- and likelihood to incite more ad blocking as a result -- he said that the ads were built to load quickly. A guideline AOL has posted online advises brands that an ad's main file cannot exceed 40 kilobytes and that any extra files attached to an ad would not be loaded until after the page loads, so as not to interfere with the browsing experience.

The ads built with AOL's new creative tools can be plugged into AOL's automated ad-buying system, or advertisers can decide to run them through other companies' ad-buying and ad-serving tools like Google's and Facebook's. But incorporating more of AOL's ad-tech products carries advantages, like using data to inform which ads should be shown to which audiences.

Brands that use AOL's new ad-creative tools and its data management platform can incorporate AOL's first-party audience data as well as a brand's own customer data to determine which audiences should see which ads. Even more specifically, that data can be used to determine which elements -- such as photos, videos, product feeds or social feeds -- should be included in a banner ad, all of which are based on HTML5 to make them adaptable to different screen sizes without extra work for the advertiser and cooperative with web browsers' increasingly anti-Flash stances. These data-informed ads can also be run outside of AOL's ad-buying and ad-serving tools, but once again AOL has made sure there are advantages to using its products.

"Similar to how we pull that [information] in today to do the ad-decisioning within our [automated ad-buying tools], we can pull that information directly into One by AOL: Creative and show that at runtime this is a woman who is 18 to 34 with these interests and therefore we believe these specific assets are the appropriate assets to show to this consumer," Mr. Miller said.

Starting in the fourth quarter, if a brand uses AOL's full One by AOL ad-tech stack, it will be able to track how the target audience is responding to the different content pieces of an and swap them out if necessary. Brands that are clients of AOL's full ad-tech stack can also measure how the ads and the individual assets that make up an ad perform. Those insights could be used to identify which photo in an ad's gallery elicited the most interaction from a target audience in case a brand would want to break that photo out into its own billboard.

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