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AOL Gives Advertisers an Alternative to Facebook's People-Based Marketing

Builds technology to serve ads anywhere

AOL says it can link users across devices with 93 percent accuracy.

AOL is into "people-centric" marketing just like Facebook. The company said it could now identify 100 million consumers and target ads to them no matter what device they utilize—desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone. 

New York-based AOL is combining its ad platforms—Adap.TV and AdLearn Open Platform (AOP)—into one system, which is aptly named One. Launching in February, One will combine programmatic buying of video from Adap.TV and display and banners from AOP, and it will include the cross-device capabilities.

"This is really along that pathway of making life easier for marketers within our platforms," said Chad Gallagher, director of mobile at AOL Platforms. "Two major pieces of data are now available: device-linking technology linking users from desktop to mobile devices. The second piece of data is [location information]."

Cross-device technology is a strong focus in the online ad world as players develop their own solutions to ensure brands can accurately find users who constantly use multiple devices. Facebook launched the Atlas ad server earlier this month to take advantage of its data on 1.3 billion users who are constantly flipping between desktop/laptop and mobile.

Facebook could employ Atlas to serve ads to properties outside its digital walls, and help advertisers connect with users anywhere. AOL Platforms, the ad tech arm of the Web company, has been developing its programmatic tools for brands to manage digital ads across devices.

AOL has compiled 100 million consumer profiles that could target multiple devices, and it claims 93 percent accuracy reaching the intended target, as measured by comScore. So 93 percent of the time a consumer could be traced from one device to the next. Gallagher said AOL complies with privacy requests of users, who can opt out of such tracking.

System Reaps Results in Brand Trials

Citi and T-Mobile were early testers of AOL's new ad tech, which is available through Adap.TV and AOP for now until the two are united into One. AOL Platforms said that 54 percent of its ad campaigns were cross-screen during the second quarter of 2014.

AOL said advertisers with access to such data and technology were seeing a 30 percent increase in the effectiveness of their ads, with cost per action down. For example, a marketer with a $55 cost per action would see that drop to $35, Gallagher said.

"We take a very integrated, holistic approach to how we engage our customers," Peter DeLuca, T-Mobile's svp of brand and advertising, said in a prepared statement. "Reaching them on multiple platforms with relevant content suitable for each channel—whether that be their desktop or mobile device—helps us target our message, build brand awareness and lead to direct customer action."

Linking devices is a key component to measuring the effectiveness of advertising because often a consumer could see an ad on one screen and then make a purchase on another.

"If someone performs an action on one device but ends up converting on desktop, all that data piece together to tell a story," Gallagher said. 

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