AOL’s Cross-Device Solution Aims To Cure The Advertiser’s Attribution Headache

AOLcross-device(2)If an advertiser runs a mobile campaign, but the targeted consumer doesn’t convert on her mobile device, that doesn’t mean the campaign failed.

Chad Gallagher, director of mobile at AOL Platforms, has been trying to convince brands of this for quite some time, and it’s one reason that AOL introduced One, a platform that incorporates device-linking and geo-targeting capabilities through AOL’s video platform Adapt.TV and its ad management platform AdLearn Open Platform (AOP). That’s live right now. Starting in February 2015, AOL will integrate Adapt.TV and AOP with attribution through Convertro.

Cross-device advertising couldn’t be hotter right now, as evidenced by Facebook’s rerelease of Atlas in September, a platform that leverages logged in user data to support persistent tracking. With One, AOL is beefing itself up to be a cross-device contender on the people-based advertising circuit. 

AOL first gave a hint about what it was planning back in March when it rebranded AOL Networks as AOL Platforms and rolled out a variety of programmatic capabilities through its Adapt.TV and AOP. That was the first step towards bringing One to market.

“Today we have AOP and Adapt.TV and Convertro, the attribution company we acquired about six months ago,” Gallagher told AdExchanger. “What we’ll be releasing in Q1 is the next step – a single platform where you can run campaigns in AOP and Adapt.TV and use Convertro across everything to help you understand your marketing. That’s what One is all about.”

AOL’s One will use a combination of deterministic and statistical models to reach consumers with what it claims to be a 93% match rate. Deterministic data will come courtesy of users who log directly into AOL sites like AOL Mail or The Huffington Post, as well as via third-party publishers that pass along logins from opted-in users.

But while deterministic data is accurate, it doesn’t always allow for the kind of scale advertisers are looking for, which is where probabilistic comes in.

“That’s why on top of that, we use probabilistic to get us even more scale, and we use the deterministic data to train the probabilistic data,” Gallagher said.

In terms of attribution, AOL plans to make Convertro available within its combined One offering.

“We have massive brands who are looking at us as a way to attribute the value of mobile,” Gallagher said. “We can show them how a click happened on one device and how the conversion happened somewhere else. The big thing here is tying Convertro together across all media.”

That fits nicely with AOL’s focus on cross-platform engagement, rather than cross-platform targeting, Gallagher said.

“We’re doing the release now, but we’re probably about two years into this way of thinking, which is encouraging our marketers to move away from devices and towards people,” he said. “If you can engage the person and then if you can track that engagement against the person, you can start thinking about what you’re doing more holistically. That’s where the lightbulb is finally going on – people are spending so much time on mobile, but they’re probably not filling out a five-page form for a new credit card on their phone. But that doesn’t mean your mobile credit card campaign didn’t have a huge impact.”

Gallagher also pointed to the versatility of location data, which ties in neatly with what AOL’s doing on the cross-device front. Starting Friday, advertisers will be able to access geodata within AOP for no additional fee.

“For example, let’s say we want to use AOP to target people who have been in an airport – there are lots of different options,” Gallagher said. “We can target people who are in the airport at that moment, for one. We could also target people who have recently been in an airport either on a specific device or on any device that belongs to them based on a combination of geodata and cross-device data.”

AOL culls its location data through map service MapQuest, which it bought all the way back in 1999, by tying latitude/longitude data to actual locations.

“About 20% of mobile apps have geodata enabled, which could be on a site we own, like MapQuest or Moviefone, or also a third-party in our publisher network, like a weather site,” Gallagher said. “When we see the ad impression, whether we actually showed the ad or just had access to the bid in RTB, we use the MapQuest geo layer to turn that geodata into a real, actionable place, whether that’s a Starbucks location, an airport or a Verizon store.”

That, of course, brings up privacy issues, but according to Gallagher, AOL is being very careful. It only taps into lat/long data if users give permission to enable location when they first download an app. And if a person decides to opt out of cross-device targeting, he or she only has to do it once; opting out on one devices applies to all devices.

As to whether or not agencies and their clients are ready for cross-device advertising, Rob Griffin, EVP and global head of digital at Havas Media Group, was overwhelmingly positive – with one small caveat.

“Just like with Facebook, though, it will take time to test and flesh out the full scope of the opportunity,” Griffin told AdExchanger. “[That said,] cross-device tracking and being less reliant on the cookie is imperative. Clients do want it and realize the potential. The challenge will be aligning media and creative to maximize the full potential [as in] the reintegration of media and digital, plus digital and traditional. This will allow us to truly leverage programmatic technology beyond just planning media and delivering programmatic creative.”

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