anniversary posts

Aug 4th 2014

Inertia Is Stifling Innovation - and the 'Tech Tax' is No Myth

As I reflect upon my first anniversary as global CEO for AOL Platforms, I've gained a unique perspective on the industry after years on the agency side of the business (most recently as global CEO of Razorfish and CEO of Publicis Groupe's digital technology division), to now being fully immersed in the technical innovations that are powering the rapidly evolving digital ad and publishing ecosystems. AOL has given me new insight into the many challenges and opportunities that marketers encounter when navigating the complex and crowded world of programmatic buying, data analytics, attribution, mobile, online video and more. Here are a few things I have learned in the last year -- both the good and the bad:

1. The "tech tax" is no myth. The words "confusing" and "complex" are used to describe the current ad tech landscape for a reason. A multitude of highly specialized product vendors are all vying for a sliver of the marketing pie. Currently, for every dollar that a brand spends on a digital placement, more than half is siphoned off to a complicated web of trading desks, private exchanges, DSPs (demand-side platforms), SSPs (supply-side platforms), data aggregators, tag management vendors, ad verification vendors, retargeters and more. Having seen the waste inherent in our bloated publishing and advertising ecosystems first-hand, my take is that the industry's No. 1 objective should be to unify and simplify the technologies that automate the planning, buying, execution, optimization and measurement of cross-screen and cross-format campaigns. The innovation exists. Our job is to harness it, simplify it and deploy it to increase the power and reach of every advertising dollar.

2. Inertia is stifling innovation. Things that worked in traditional media -- like "splitting the buy" across broadcast networks and static one-month-ahead planning -- don't make sense in today's data-driven digital world. Today the wealth of data and technology available make it possible to continually analyze behavior and performance data, empowering brands to zero in on the most relevant audiences and inventory in real-time, rather than hedge their bets. We wholeheartedly agree with WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell that data experts have an important role to play in this changing agency landscape: "You need to have programmers, engineers, scientists and mathematicians, and it needs different types of agency people working together." Marketers and brand executives that don't evolve from doing things "the way they've always been done" will be left behind. Those that adapt their strategies to the digital age will grow and thrive.

3. The value of data is exponential. Too many marketers lock information in silos (separating mobile, social and desktop analytics for example), which leaves them unable to realize the full potential of their data. Confirmed in a soon-to-be released study on social media marketing conducted by Convertro (the multi-touch attribution vendor acquired this year by AOL), we've long known that consumers don't engage with content in silos -- they move between devices throughout the day. And while a lower number of conversions happen on social, engagement on this channel is important to customer awareness and consideration of products. This will be increasingly important as, according to a study from the ANA and Nielsen, by 2016 nearly half of media campaigns are expected to be multiscreen. The bottom line is that data increases exponentially when it can be integrated, analyzed holistically and used to optimize decisions across all marketing channels. And marketers need to know how campaign performance is impacted by each individual impression, regardless of which screens or types of inventory are engaged.

4. Don't bother with meaningless distinctions. Our industry spends way too much time asking where the dollars are going to go next: TV or video? Mobile or display? Broadcast or digital? All decisions, whether media, creative or format-driven, should focus on reaching the consumer wherever they are, whenever they are ready to engage. And optimizing the allocation of total ad spend successfully depends on automation and data optimization that can tell you what's working, what's not and where improvements should be made, regardless of the channel.

After a year of focusing on how to make advertising technology better, faster, smarter and more efficient, I'm looking forward to a future where advertisers adopt the tools and processes they need to accomplish their most important goal: engage with consumers and move their business forward. Working together, the CMO and CTO will drive business results. Period.

Read the original article on Ad Age here.

May 8th 2014

MapQuest at 18

Travel is more fun today, isn't it?

Travel is easier, more intuitive, more fulfilling and just plain better. If you had asked the good people who founded MapQuest in 1996, I think they would have shared that their hope for this -- the pioneer provider of online maps and directions -- would be to do just that: Make travel better.

Nearly two decades later, that's why this MapQuest crew gets out of bed every day. Our teams around the country and partners across the globe spend literally every second on the job working, yes, to improve travel, but also to expand the consumer's idea of how we can help make his or her DAY better.

As consumers, we look for help making 254,800 decisions each year. It's exhausting! Just trying to decide what's for dinner or where to take Fido for a groom can spin the day in a sour direction.

But what if that didn't have to happen? What if MapQuest were there to help with the most remedial decisions required every day?

Friends, that day is here. If you haven't checked out the new MapQuest Local experience launched just last month, that's a good place to start.

  • Taking Timmy to a soccer game and need to have dinner waiting when you get home? Our GrubHub integration allows users to review menus and order online from hundreds of thousands of restaurants nationwide
  • Did your favorite professional hockey players surprise everyone and make it to the second round? SeatGeek may be the answer to finding last-minute tickets.

And don't miss the myriad of other functionalities from booking an appointment and checking your flight status to finding a hotel or making a dinner reservation. It's the beginnings of what we believe will be the best single source of local discovery and experience on the planet.

Though we find the majority of our desktop users appreciate printed directions riding shotgun with them, millions have taken a liking to our free re-imagined navigation apps launched late last year.

Our heralded iOS and Android apps focus on the three most important areas for our consumers:

  • Safety: Our upside-down mode means people don't have to monkey with their phones to navigate the road. Hands on the 10-and-2, and we'll flip things around for you.
  • Accuracy: Nobody in this business offers the plethora of algorithms we do to get people there, even if road conditions change and an alternate route is required. And by the way, we did this before anyone else.
  • Relevancy: For those driving more than a few hours on their trips, the drag-and-drop map icon makes it a synch to find hotel options along the route.

There's a lot to see and do with the new MapQuest these days, and while we hope you'll take a peek at these meaningful offerings, we're not even close to being finished with them. Keep an eye on us these next few months as we continue to roll out features to make the every day better. Because it's what happens AFTER you get there that matters, isn't it?

Mar 11th 2014

Mandatory.com Launches Site Redesign

AOL's "man-brand," Mandatory, celebrates its second birthday today – and what better way to mark occasion than a brand-new, redesigned, mobile-optimized site? With at least 50% of traffic derived from mobile, the new experience will have a great impact on driving even further views.

When Mandatory launched, the primary focus was building an organic audience. Using sharable content, search and building partnerships, the site now has about 5 million unique visits a month – and consistently leads the Men's Lifestyle category*.

What else can we expect from Mandatory 2.0?

  • A fully responsive mobile site... and increased mobile traffic = optimized mobile ad experiences, so everybody wins
  • A more dynamic homepage
  • More sharable, fun content

For highlights on Mandatory's journey, new features and a surprise*, check out the video with Luke Wolter, Mandatory General Manager, and Cory Jones, Lead Editor for Mandatory below:

*(source: Comscore MediaMetrix, Feb. '14)

*Cat video

Dec 5th 2013

Buysight Marks First Anniversary in AOL Family

Today marks the one-year anniversary of AOL acquiring Buysight, an industry-leading retargeting and intent-based targeting company. Buysight - now called Advertising.com Dynamic Retargeter (ADR) -allows brands to market to consumers who have already visited their site.

In the past year, Buysight has become deeply integrated into AOL Networks with AdLearn Open Platform and Advertising.com, and has signed up great brands and clients.

Armin Ebrahimi, CEO of ADR and head of the Palo Alto office, invited the office to celebrate the milestone later today. Congratulations to the team for a great year!

Oct 17th 2013

15 Years of Advertising.com

Wow, time flies. I can remember my first day at Advertising.com, now 13+ years ago. I had left my "safe" corporate career job at Arthur Andersen to join a "risky" startup as one of the partners suggested (#irony), and got to be part of the Web "boom" of the late '90s and early 2000s. It's amazing to reflect on how the company has grown over the years. Looking back over the past decade plus, there are several things that strike me:

The Early Days
Launching products and iterating quickly was a staple of the business. We had a lot of ideas – some worked well and others, not so much. There were those that had really successful runs that ultimately lost steam (remember the "GetPaid4" toolbar?) and ideas that were ahead of their time, like serving Mercedes Benz ads into Palm Pilots. And, of course, we had our share of busts. Looking back, the thing I'm most proud of is that we never lost sight of our North Star: differentiated products and technology that served the customer. Laser focus on creating long-term value for advertisers, publishers and consumers has been rooted in our culture from the very beginning.

The Internet Bust and 'Digital Depression'
In early 2001, the Advertising.com leadership team faced the difficult (but correct) decision to reduce the staff by nearly 40%. It was one of the hardest times in my professional career. I remember that day and how personal this was for our founders. It wasn't about the business – it was the impact on the people who had taken personal and professional risks to join the company. Ironically, amidst this terrible time was when I truly came to value the culture of Advertising.com. I realized that, just as in life, it's easy to do good business in high times; not so easy when it's in jeopardy.

It was then I realized what an advantage it was that Advertising.com was headquartered in Baltimore -- that more than 80% of our employees were part of this special community. The bond we all shared as the only digital advertising startup in the region at the time helped us get through the 'digital depression' and it proved to be a strong retention asset for those who were committed to the city. I was one of them.

"You've Been Acquired"
The business rebounded in full force, and in early 2004 Advertising.com filed an S-1. The leadership team was transparent with the employees and staff, and it was a very exciting time. Ultimately, the leadership and Board received an offer from AOL. I remember how exciting it was when AOL announced it had made an offer to acquire Advertising.com. By late summer of 2004, we were part of the AOL family. How far we had come from just a few years ago when we were fighting for survival. It was a very different AOL than the AOL of today, and we were fortunate to have Jon Miller and Ted Leonsis as business sponsors as they sought to move AOL beyond a subscription-only business in 2004. Our cultures were quite different, but they didn't come in and try to change who we were. Instead, they gave us room to grow and innovate. With the ongoing leadership of founders Scott and John Ferber, as well as our president and COO Gar Richlin, we started to innovate and grow in ways we hadn't envisioned within our new AOL parent.

Moving to Platforms
It wasn't long before Advertising.com evolved past the traditional "ad network." Many don't know this, but one of the biggest innovations that came out of our product and engineering shops was real-time bidding in 2007! Yes, you read that right, 2007. While we had already been offering a "closed auction exchange" on a managed services basis, we had quietly expanded into the real-time bidding world. It would be some time before the market caught up to this.

Today, we're leading the programmatic platforms movement. We service the buy side and the sell side with our product suite offerings, AdLearn Open Platform (AOP) and MARKETPLACE. And we've just welcomed yet another game-changing platform asset into the mix, Adap.tv. Side note: AOL, you haven't lost your acquisition touch!

The Advertising.com "Mafia"
The Advertising.com alumni network has expanded greatly over the years, and you can find them in influential positions at nearly every major global digital advertising company ... at Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and the list goes on and on. Closer to home, it's remarkable to see the impact Advertising.com has had in growing the Baltimore technology community. Our alumni have created Videology, founded by Scott Ferber; Lotame, founded by Andy Monfried, and Millennial Media, led by Chris Brandenberg and Steve Root.

Looking Ahead
Over all these years, perhaps one of the most important lessons I've learned here is that the only constant is change. I remember a time when popunder ads were a core part of our business. (How would we ever survive without popunders!)

There's always another threat, another pitfall, another company chasing our heels, but even more so, opportunity that presents itself every day. Over the past several years, I've been fortunate to partner with leaders such as Don Kennedy, Chris Heine and others who have driven Advertising.com and now AOL Networks growth through good times and the unavoidable economic and product cycle hiccups.

For everyone who has helped build this business over the past 15 years, thank you. You've made this a very special place. Fifteen years is a great achievement. I hope you're as excited for the next 15 as I am.

Happy 15th anniversary, Advertising.com.

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