AOL Pivots From Data-Driven To Data-Giving: Unveils Incentive Ads

LAS VEGAS -- CES is an acronym that stands for the “Consumer Electronics Show,” but given the number of ad execs attending each year, it’s not surprising to see plenty of trade news unveiled -- albeit ultimately aimed at consumers. That was the case with AOL’s announcement this morning, during the opening day of CES here, in which it unveiled “BrandBuilder,” a new advertising platform featuring new formats “driven by data.”

“The show is the perfect venue to launch,” Spencer Sloe, vice president-advertising product & strategy for AOL Content & Brands stated as part of the announcement unveiling the new “ad creative framework,” which he said would be powered by AOL’s data and platforms.

By data, AOL apparently doesn’t just mean data targeting consumers, but also data as a direct consumer benefit being offered by AOL sponsors. Among the new ad formats is one that “incentivizes” consumers by offering them upgrades to their wireless data plans in exchange for brand engagements. Not surprisingly, those incentives are being offered through AOL parent Verizon.



The program, dubbed “DataPerks,” is being described as a “mobile-based value-exchange that rewards additional wireless plan data for various lead generation engagement.”

As an example, AOL said a consumer downloading a coupon might qualify for a wireless data upgrade.

AOL said the program would be available to brands in the first quarter, targeting U.S. Verizon Wireless subscribers.

Parent Verizon unveiled a similar idea last year, dubbed "FreeBee Perks," with AOL and Hearst Magazines as two of its beta partners.

Verizon described them as a “new sponsored data service” designed to “help businesses drive better engagement with mobile content.”

It's not clear how FreeBee program has done, but it is still listed as a consumer offering on Verizon's website. The FreeBee ads and a similar sponsored data program from rival AT&T have come under scrutiny from the Federal Communications Commission, which indicated concern that they could constrain competition.

AOL, meanwhile, is using CES as a means of jumpstarting its DataPerks conversations with brands and agencies to begin testing new ad models with it.

An AOL spokesperson said those talks are just beginning, but noted that the initial concepts were developed by working with McNeil Consumer Pharmaceutical's Pepsid AC brand and its agency, Interpublic's Ansible unit. Among the concepts explored were two sponsored brand experiences that would reward consumers with Verizon data credits.

Both would be initiated via a mobile ad unit. In the first scenario, a consumer would receive a data credit for downloading a coupon and the data value would be part of the value of the coupon.

In the second example, a consumer would be asked to provide their email address for lead-generation purposes.

In both cases, the spokesperson said the data value and the cost of the ads would be negotiated between AOL and the brand and its agency. Over time she said, the goal would be to enable standardized versions of the new units to be bought programmatically through AOL.

Another new format unveiled as part of BrandBuilder is a new, truncated version of pre-roll. Dubbed “Player Up,” AOL said the “suite of non-intrusive, consumer friendly ad experiences” include a “content bumper,” a rich media “overlay” embedded in the content or as part of a video player’s pause button.” Unlike traditional pre-roll ads that typically run in 15- or 30-second units, the Player Up spots run in 3-second and 7-second segments.

Among the brands participating in the BrandBuilder “beta” program is eBay, which was an “architect and helped shape” the new formats, according to Olivier Ropars, senior director of global Internet marketing at eBay.

“As brands, we’re only as successful as our customers are happy, and programs like these are what help us continue building a brand people love,” he stated.

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