But "Devil" ads will play a big part in the integration of the
Huffington Post, once the $315 million deal closes, according to
people familiar with their plans. Indeed, deploying the ad will be
an early test of the relationship, because it will require a
redesign of Huffington Post's famously cluttered pages.
The new ad format is part of CEO Tim Armstrong's plan to "to
redesign the internet," which means decreasing the sheer number of
ads blasted at readers and selling them for higher rates. The
company has over the past year shaved away many of the ad banners
and boxes that are on many of its pages, resulting in a 25% drop in
ad revenue from 2009 to $2.41 billion last year. Devil is a way to
supplant those cluttered ads with premium, higher-priced
placements, drawing in more brand-focused companies.
AOL has put in a considerable amount of resources and time into
developing the format, which strips down the right side, taking
roughly a third of the page. AOL had initially hoped that other big
publishers would follow suit and adopt it as one of several
standard online ad formats.
While the company said several publishers have expressed
interest, none have implemented it, partly because they would have
to redesign their pages to accommodate the larger size, not an easy
undertaking. AOL needs other publishers to adopt the unit for
agencies and marketers to start developing content for it.
"This is the future of what display is heading toward," said
Jeff Levick, AOL's president-global advertising and strategy.
"People buy Vogue because they want to read the ads as much as the
content. That's exactly what we want to do."
The "Devil" unit includes several modules for content, images,
video, Twitter feeds, Facebook integration and the like, and is
designed to keep readers on the page. AOL acquired Pictela earlier
in the year, which has technology that allows a company to load an
entire catalog or playlist of videos within an ad.
What AOL is dangling for publishers is at least the concept of
replacing the typical two ads on a page for one, bigger, more
magazine-like ad for ad rates in the range of $35 per thousand
viewers, three to four times that of a typical banner ad. With that
in mind, AOL has submitted the format to industry trade group
Interactive Advertising Bureau in hopes it will endorse it as a new
standard. The IAB plans to announce its new sanctioned formats this
"We're hoping the rest of the industry can adopt the new
standards -- we don't want this to be proprietary," Mr. Levick
Toyota has been running Devil ads for its Highlander SUV on AOL
for the past month, and though the results so far are inconclusive
given its short life, executives say Devil has been far more useful
to readers than typical online ad placements.
"Because we know consumers' time is valuable, we're trying to
give them something of value, something that's relevant," said Kim
Kyaw, senior media strategist at Toyota, who pointed out that
readers have played with the ad at higher rates than typical ads
that also feature "rich media" components, such as quizzes, games
For Toyota executives it solved the usual ad clutter found on so
many websites. "It fit nicely within the flow of the page and the
layout," Ms. Kyaw said of how Devil played on AOL site Parent Dish,
where it was the only advertiser. "It's one consistent unit so
we're not competing with other messages on the site."
AOL execs are selling the capabilities of Pictela, which ads
functionality to any of the three interactive "modules." Pictela's
clients have generally fallen into the fashion and retail space.
"Consumer experiences around advertising are changing -- they don't
want to click away," said CEO Greg Rogers.
Beauty company Revlon wanted to take advantage of Pictela's
features that allow for sharing through Twitter or Facebook, but
saw an emergent benefit to that action.
"All that sharing through Facebook was very consistent with our
brand message," said Julia Goldin, Revlon's global chief marketing
officer. "We're reinforcing our products through a real connection
with consumers, one that's emotional rather than just showing them
something. It has more meaning."
~ ~ ~
According to a spokesperson for the Huffington Post, Project Devil
is being considered for the site, but nothing has been settled. The
merger between AOL and the Huffington Post has yet to be completed
and is expected to close soon.