AOL recently extended its Project Devil display ad format to mobile devices, aiming to streamline the process of running campaigns across multiple platforms. MediaPost spoke with David Temkin, head of mobile at AOL, about the new mobile ads and AOL’s mobile efforts more broadly.
Before joining AOL in 2010, Temkin was VP-developer platform at Palm, and a co-founder of integrated Web app developer Laszlo Systems.
MP: Mobile already has lots of rich media ad vendors with their own formats. Why does it need Project Devil ads?
DT: Rich media is a pretty broad term, with things like video, and there are various specific rich media formats -- some of which we’ve used. We’ve partnered with a company called AdJitsu, 3D advertising within iPad magazine products. What we’re doing with Pictela or Devil is a lot more aligned with AOL’s broader strategy, which is to provide cross-screen experiences to its users, and cross-screen advertising for the entire pipeline.
I can place a single campaign and have ads run on the desktop, on the tablet, on various smartphones -- and that can all be managed, effectively, as a single ad buy. Pictela is not a generic rich-media solution, it is a dynamically programmable ad format, where the advertiser can change the behavior and contents of the ad over time.
MP: Do you see the tablet overtaking the smartphone as the mobile screen of choice for high-impact brand advertising?
DT: There’s a place for both. Yes, you get a more immersive, comprehensive type of presentation on a tablet, but people do a lot of things on smartphones that require interaction, data entry, navigation -- and these are straight-ahead things on a smartphone.
MP: On a smartphone screen, the Devil ad will appear like a standard bannner until it’s clicked on. Is that a potential drawback?
DT: We’re going to learn over time how well that works. That’s pretty typical of our mobile advertisements on smartphones -- you have a banner that you click on, it expands, and shows whatever it shows. The Pictela ad works in the same way, it can be placed anywhere we have a mobile banner. There’s lots of experimentation in mobile with interstitials of various kinds, and we could see things going in that direction.
MP: Is the “mobile first” concept something AOL is buying into?
DT: “Mobile first” is a very, very big deal for us. It’s becoming the mainstream way people touch our content and our applications. So touch interaction, the look and feel, locations services -- we are really revisiting how these [AOL] brands are represented, and we’re thinking of mobile as the starting point, not the desktop site.
MP: Is there any shift away from apps to the mobile Web with the emergence of HTML5 ?
DT: We believe in both. We have a broad suite of apps and a broad suite of mobile Web sites, and they’re both performing pretty well. We’ve seen explosive growth in our mobile Web usage because we now have high-performing, interactive HTML5 sites for all our top-tier brands. What we see is that when you upgrade a site from desktop presentation to mobile Web, usage goes up.
But the real dedicated users of any given brand are going to be using an app because an app offers better performance. In some cases, we see 20 times the engagement in apps that we do on the mobile Web, but much lower reach. So it’s a different tradeoff.
MP: Yahoo shut down its Livestand newsreader app for the iPad in May. What’s the status of Editions by AOL?
DT: Editions continues to be pretty popular. You’ll notice the number of reviews in the Apple App Store is considerably higher than they were for Livestand. We are planning major improvements and extensions for the product later this year. It's resonating with our users.
MP: How about advertisers?
DT: It’s gone pretty favorably. It’s an early-on product -- we’re still building audience, we’re still experimenting with ad formats, but we’re feeling pretty good about it. We’re also able to take the same ad formats and push those ads into Huffington magazine and into the Distro magazine. So we have a common platform for iPad magazines.
MP: But not Devil ad formats?
DT: No. These are full-page magazine-style ads, which are not exactly what Devil is about.