AOL’s Lord: Less Talk Around Ad Units, More Around Brand Experiences

Bob Lord, IP2014During a Q&A with AdExchanger’s Director of Research Joanna O’Connell at the Industry Preview 2014 conference, interactive agency veteran and AOL Networks CEO Bob Lord discussed AOL’s moves into programmatic, its emphasis on video through marketplace provider, the importance of cross-device advertising and the need to make ad tech in general less confusing and fragmented.

“AOL’s ambition for programmatic is to have an equal amount of efficiency on the sales side and the buy side,” Lord said, saying he expected each side to realize 25% savings. “AOL can help streamline these placement, but if you don’t have influence on both sides, it’s really hard to automate the process.”

Part of producing greater efficiency is the ability to offer actual seamlessness in ad delivery and measurement from the PC to the tablet to the smartphone, Lord said. The reason so much talk around cross-platform is still mostly just air at the moment is because there are too many businesses operating across narrow sections of the advertising landscape.

The proliferation of these businesses – Lord invoked the panoply of display ad tech companies that populate the LUMAscape to underscore the persistent dysfunction –  can be dealt with only by embracing greater openness in the form of interoperability. That’s something that Lord, who previously served as the head of Publicis Groupe’s Razorfish, conceded that he has been slow to arrive at.

“We’ve made this industry too confusing and we can only fix it with open platforms,” Lord said. “I think the creative world has been stuck. In the past, you had three siloes: technology, media and creativity. They could each operate independently and do pretty well. That’s not the case anymore.”

In Lord’s view, media buying and technology have been disrupted while creative, which commands the attention of brands, has not.  Improvements will come only when marketers demand the same kind of accountability for creative as they currently require for direct response advertising.

But Lord also insisted both media buying and technology disciplines need to evolve. “We all need to stop talking about ad units and start talking about brand experiences,” Lord said. “I would predict a merging of brand metrics with direct response metrics. We haven’t had that, but I think we’re getting there.”

For AOL, that combination pivots on its ability to build content and programmatic business around video, which are central to what he called AOL CEO Tim Armstrong’s “two big bets.”

That strategy involves looking at AOL’s owned and operated properties and determining where video fits. “The video strategy sits somewhere between a Hulu and a YouTube type site, with a middle layer of curated video content,” Lord said. “When Publicis and Omnicom merge, they’re going to have a lot of buying power for publishers. And that will lead to the demands for greater creativity and to match the accountability for direct response that we’ve been used to.”

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1 Comment

  1. I know I am showing my age and a bit of nostalgia for the history of the advertising business, but it is still hard to read this… “I think the creative world has been stuck. In the past, you had three siloes: technology, media and creativity. They could each operate independently and do pretty well. That’s not the case anymore.”

    Actually, Mr. Lord, in the past, technology, research, creative and media used to be intimately tied together – we called it an Ad Agency. Lord, Geller, Federico was a great example.

    I completely agree with you that these skills are ineffective when they operate in silos and that we need to pull them back together. It’s just that, looking at the big picture of advertising, the window of time when these skills were isolated will eventually look like a weird blip in the history of the business.