AOL’s Devil Needs Targeting

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aol.jpgADOTAS – As a teen, I subscribed to a few guitar-centric glossies. However, I realized after a time that I wasn’t reading the articles, which tended to be retread interviews of guitars heros from yesteryear and chats with up and coming bands that could play little more than power chords.

I was mainly scanning all the advertising, drooling over custom-crafted guitars, vacuum tube amplifiers and hand-wired effects pedals that were way beyond my meager budget. And when I had this epiphany, I felt like a rube for paying a magazine to send me advertisements. I canceled my subscriptions.

Advertising Age has an interesting article describing the role Huffington Post will play in AOL’s rollout of Project Devil (you’d think they could have given it a less ominous name), a new display ad format that will cover roughly a third of a page at an expected CPM of $35. Apparently the recently acquired HuffPo will require a redesign to fit the spots.

“This is the future of what display is heading toward,” Jeff Levick, AOL president of global advertising and strategy, tells AdAge. “People buy Vogue because they want to read the ads as much as the content. That’s exactly what we want to do.”

Arguably, advertising in fashion magazines crosses the line into art. Spreads tend to feature beautiful people, elegantly photographed, or gorgeous illustrations by popular artists. No one complains about Vogue being mainly ads because the ads are gorgeous. More important, like my guitar magazines, the ads hit a vertical — readers want to see full-page extravaganzas from luxury brands from the fashion world as well as other pricey goods. The more expensive and gaudy the product, the better.

But applying that logic to display ads on Internet portals sounds kinda ludicrous. Consumers have grown very accustomed to ignoring banner ads; they accept page takeovers or interstitials that can be dismissed — removing that kind of control and forcing a one-third page ad on a user could see a backlash.

Granted, that kind of screen real estate will be a boon for rich media toys, including social integrations. The theory would be: give an ad more room, and the better chance it has to engage.

But the guinea pig ad for the Toyota Highlander. I own a Dodge Caravan (Need a ride to soccer practice?) and have no desire for a new car. (I don’t have the budget either, but the desire aspect is more important — craving something you can’t afford is part of the American experience.) Perhaps the ad can engage me through a humorous commercial or some kind of game (helluva burden for the creatives), but more likely I’ll be annoyed that a third of the page has been wasted on a futile attempt to interest me in an SUV.

Say you throw targeting into the mix — contextual or behavioral. Instead of a car ad, a rich media ad is custom-served to me for the new Radiohead album with a video of a live performance. Well, then I’m not too annoyed with one-third of a content page taken up by an ad. If I’m perusing AOL’s car content, then a Toyota Highlander ad wouldn’t bug me (but I may still be irked about the size).

That’s the only way I can see Project Devil working; otherwise it’s going to annoy the hell out of site visitors, and effectively erase all the potential in AOL’s acquisition of HuffPo.

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