The Project Devil Relaunch: It's Not Just About AOL

Recently MediaPost’s Online Media Daily ran a story announcing the relaunch of AOL’s Project Devil, featuring closer integration with the company’s Pictela management platform.   It’s exciting news for AOL, which promised to “wow the industry” with Devil in late 2010. The newly revamped Devil offers two flavors of its app-enhanced ad unit: one, with up to two-thirds available for HD video, plus an app integration; the other set for just a single application – video, a photo gallery, whatever the advertiser chooses. (The original Devil offered a single three-app unit.)  As an example of how this might work, an ad for “Game of Thrones” could feature a high-def trailer, a Twitter feed featuring a #WinterIsComing hashtag and a link to buy the second season DVD box set.

We’re genuinely happy for our colleagues at AOL. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and as one of the larger portals in the industry, AOL can help attract big brand budgets to the online channel with their retooled offering. But in my opinion, the story shouldn’t be about the relaunch of Project Devil as an AOL achievement. That may be big for AOL, but it doesn’t do much to attract branding dollars to the web. The real story here is about ad unit itself, adopted by the IAB as a new standard ad unit: the “portrait.”

The Rising Star ad units are exciting and industry-altering. While we have focused for years on the click, CPC and CPA, the Rising Stars are premium ad units, focused on branding and interaction. These new units are online display at its very best, showcasing fresh thinking in our industry. The portrait in particular can be an agent that beautifully melds together paid, owned and earned media in a single spot – and invites the highest levels of engagement in doing so.

Understanding that Devil is indicative of a huge shift in the industry, I think the relaunch announcement should also have highlighted:

The Devil is native: The Project Devil ads are native ad units. They feature engaging, interactive content. These ads are visually integrated into the sites that offer them, like Mother Jones and Salon.com, and they don’t compete with the host site’s design and content: they complement it. The ads are also choice-based, so they’re not intrusive. Users choose to interact with the content or expand the ad. If ignored, it won’t expand and play on its own; it won’t disrupt user experience.  Furthermore, a click will not take users away from the page they were on: a huge plus for the publisher, who benefits financially from the interaction – and gets to keep an engaged, active user onsite.

Optimized for multiscreen interaction:  The original Devil unit was built for desktop viewing. Mobile Devils were introduced this summer and are as ground-breaking as their office-based counterparts. Like the original Devils, these mobile units feature three built-in apps, giving advertisers the ability to mirror experiences across screens.  The mobile units look deceivingly like typical mobile banners at first blush, but expand for interaction.

What becomes clear upon interaction is that these ads were built for mobile. They facilitate brand experiences on portable devices in a way that’s both natural and elegant. Users can watch HD videos, flip through photo albums, or scroll through text based content easily.  The result is rich mobile at its best: interactive content, optimized for mobile – all within a single ad unit.

Essentially, Devils give advertisers the ability to create branded rich media experiences across multiple screens. That alone is far more exciting than a relaunch announcement!

Interaction over viewability:  The really wonderful things about Project Devil is its interactivity. This is not an ad you simply click. These ad formats allow for so many levels of interaction: tweeting, sharing, watching videos, interactive demos, etc. It’s not surprising that they boast twice the interaction of older standard IAB units. Viewability becomes almost a non-issue here, since you’re paying per engagement, not per click or impression.

At the end of the day, the news isn’t about AOL. It’s bigger. The big news here, really, is that the web is ready for big brands.  AOL has spearheaded some fantastic ad units that showcase brands beautifully with gorgeous interactive experiences. 

The IAB was wise to adopt the Devil units as rising stars. Now, in the multichannel battle to secure more of the branding budget, the online industry has found its champion, and we are personally championing the cause.  We believe that combining a media network with the best of premium content in scaling Native Devil ads is fiendishly genius.

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1 comment about "The Project Devil Relaunch: It's Not Just About AOL".
  1. regina bienstock from AOL , November 2, 2012 at 11:17 a.m.
    Completely agree with you Skip! We love the Devil ad unit here very much at AOL and we want to increase adoption across the web -- in addition to our own sites, we partner with hundreds of premium publishers to offer the Devil unit via our Devil Network. As you mention above, it's a win-win-win for advertisers who benefit from high interaction rates, websites who get clean layout, elegant ads and high CPMs and most importantly, consumers since the ads are not intrusive. Thanks for helping us champion the cause.