AOL Brings Devil to Smartphones, Tablets

Will rich-media banners bring end to lame mobile ads?

More than 150 advertisers having run 700 campaigns on AOL's owned-and-operated properties using its Devil ad unit over the last 12 months. Now, AOL is bringing the interactive rich-media product to smartphones and tablets so that advertisers can run one campaign across all three screens simultaneously. AOL is expected to present the new Premium Formats for Mobile to media buyers on Wednesday at the company’s New York headquarters.

The triple-channel buy is “the culmination of my original vision,” said Greg Rogers, svp of premium formats at AOL and CEO of Pictela, which AOL acquired in December 2010 and whose technology powers the ads. “What I told [Pictela] was, ‘Imagine a future where, at the push of a button, all those ads change at once,” Rogers said.

As with the desktop version, advertisers will be able to include three of Pictela’s app units: a swipeable photo gallery, gallery of HD videos, brand’s own content feed or their Facebook or Twitter feeds. But while the traditional version of Devil is a screen behemoth, the smartphone and tablet editions will live as a thin banner along the edge of the screen that can expand to full-screen when one of the app modules is selected. The smartphone version is available through the IAB’s Push ad format, one of the organization’s mobile rising stars units; and Pictela developed two formats for tablets, Rogers said.

Only five of Pictela’s native apps will be available on smartphones and tablets at launch, but all 25 apps will be available over the next three months, Rogers said. “It would have delayed launch to try to do all 25, and so we said, 'Let’s take the five most popular, launch with that, and then every week we’ll just be rolling in more into the platform,'” he said. When advertisers select the apps for mobile, they can bundle the smartphone and tablets ads with their desktop buy so the same unit runs across all screens.

“At this point, to be able to deliver that kind of [interactive rich-media] experience that is such a far cry from the rest of mobile advertising and to do it in a scalable fashion in one workflow across multiple screens, I think’s that really powerful,” Rogers said, adding that "99 percent of mobile advertising today kind of sucks, much like 99 percent of display advertising kind of sucks.”

Advertisers will be able to see the same metrics for smartphone and tablet ads as they do with their desktop Devil campaigns and compare how the ads perform. “By using one CMS to push content out across screens, for the first time, the metrics are apples-to-apples regardless of the window” in which the ad appears, said Rogers.

The units will initially be available on AOL’s owned-and-operated mobile apps and Web properties and through’s third-party inventory. AOL charges a fixed cost-per-thousand-impressions for serving the units across devices that is “priced for adoption,” said Rogers, though the price of running the ad depends on the publisher. The ads will only run on devices featuring Apple’s iOS operating system or Google’s Android operating system, but Rogers said they’ll eventually support other mobile operating systems like Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS as demand dictates.

While Devil is just beginning to roll out to mobile, Rogers already has his eye on fourth and fifth screens, such as Internet-enabled TVs and the TVs that run in the back of taxi cabs. Microsoft’s Xbox Live platform, for example, is “something we’d want to potentially take a look at,” he said.