AOL Develops Self-Serve Platform to Manufacture Premium Ads

Service in beta until general availability in June

AOL launched the latest salvo in an effort by companies to attract brand advertising dollars online with its new Pictela Enterprise platform, which will enable agencies to create premium display ads much in the way that automakers manufacture a car.

Greg Rogers, svp of premium formats at AOL and CEO of Pictela, which AOL acquired in December 2010, described the platform as adopting “more [of] a Henry Ford approach” to the way online ads are created and served.

“We feel like display ads have looked a certain way for a long time; it’s been driven by direct-response marketing. And we think that in order to get brand marketers to come online in a really significant fashion we need to be able to repeatedly and scalably deliver ads that are beautiful but also illustrate all of that amazing content that they invest in,” Rogers said. He likened the approach to TV ads, which are relatively homogeneous in their formats but differ in content.

The Pictela Enterprise platform functions similarly to an online publisher’s content management system. Once agencies choose from among the platform’s six unit sizes—all from the Interactive Advertising Bureau Standard Ad Unit Portfolio, including the newly added portrait and pushdown units—they can customize the ad’s appearance and specify content to run within the unit. Advertisers and agencies are able to upload and store content such as photos and videos on the platform for easier access when creating an ad. The platform supports high-definition video, and Rogers said it was engineered so that those large pieces of content don’t slow page loading speeds.

For example, an agency looking to run a campaign within the interactive portrait unit—which wraps three interactive modules into one ad—can select a photo gallery as the first asset, a video as the second and a poll as the third. If an agency doesn’t want to choose among the unit’s 22 native apps, it can create and upload its own app to run within the ad. The agency can set the unit’s coloring to align with their client’s brand coloring.  Agencies can also update an ad’s content within the platform and instantly publish the changes, which will be reflected in real time for every instance that the ad appears.

The platform is in beta with agencies Digitas and Mindshare as early partners, but it will move to general availability at the end of June, said Rogers. Ads created within the platform can run across AOL properties, inventory sold through AOL’s ad network and a majority of bigger online publishers, Rogers said.

Partnering with brand intelligence and analytics company Moat on the platform’s analytics offering, users of the platform will be able to measure clicks, impressions, exposure time, video completion rates, interaction rates and interaction time. The latter two metrics are spearheaded by the IAB as part of the broader brand-to-online push by organizations.

Rogers said that visitors to pages featuring a Portrait ad spend 47 seconds interacting with the ad, roughly equal to the time spent with the page’s editorial content. He added that photo slideshows and pins (points added to an image that display text when clicked) are two of the most popular interactive functions among consumers.