AOL Goes After Google's Display Business

AOL is taking a stab at competing more directly with Google in the display ad sales department. The operator of the largest online ad network, AOL will now make display inventory from its and owned properties available through a new ad management platform. AOL built the self-service Ad Desk platform to give advertisers and agencies more control over campaigns.

"I think it's really going to help AOL along," said Chris Hansen, VP of Performance Marketing at digital agency 360i. "Frankly, before...we were probably limited in some of the spends that we were doing because we didn't have as much control, and [the new platform] gives us that."

Stressing that the product is in an early stage, Jeff Levick, executive vice president at AOL Advertising, suggested that advertisers will have more insight into campaign data through the platform. "We think that we've got an incredible amount of data...that will be launched through this tool in the coming months," he said.

Google allows advertisers to buy display through its self-serve platform, which is also used for text-based ads, while Yahoo and Microsoft have self-serve opportunities through their ad exchanges. Yet, until now, AOL has really only offered self-serve display buying on and AOL sites through its BidPlace platform, introduced in 2008. That provided a base from which the company built the more robust Ad Desk system, which now replaces BidPlace.

Ad Desk is a bid-based marketplace, selling CPM and performance-based ads. Advertisers can target by site, category, geographic location down to the DMA level, demographic, and behavior. Retargeting, or what AOL calls lead-back targeting, is also available.

According to Levick, the company believes the new system is superior to others because it has been built specifically for display ad buying and management, rather than retrofitted to suit display.

"Now AOL is trying to get in the mix. It kind of lends itself to two big players, [AOL and Google]," said Hansen. While MSN is missing from his list, Microsoft has planted a stake in the search ad category with its focus on Bing. Yahoo, however, despite its stated commitment to leading display advertising, does not offer a self-serve platform comparable to AOL's or Google's.

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