AOL Aims To Unify Its Programmatic Efforts With A New Ad Platform, ONE

AOL’s Tim Armstrong and Bob Lord are taking the stage at the ad:tech conference in San Francisco today, where they’re announcing a new programmatic ad platform called ONE.

I met with Armstrong (CEO) and Lord (CEO of AOL Platforms, which is the new name for AOL Networks) earlier this week to discuss the news. Armstrong said ONE represents the company’s work to “fully formulate a vision for the mechanization of what Madison Avenue is going to look like being a customer of our platform,” while Lord said this vision is a big part of why he joined AOL (which owns TechCrunch) from Razorfish last year.

The big theme of the new platform seems to be unification. That means unifying AOL’s various ad products, including, the AdLearn Open Platform, and the AOL Marketplace. It also means offering what Lord (pictured above) called “an open ecosystem,” allowing customers to integrate whatever ad planning, buying, and analytics products they want. The idea is to offer a full platform for advertisers without forcing them to abandon existing products and services if they don’t want to.

Lord added that ONE will offer two big advantages over existing ad platforms — data and efficiency. Those are common themes when tech companies discuss programmatic ad buying, and they’re issues that AOL has been talking about pretty consistently.

Lord suggested that AOL can do something unique in this area because it can create a single interface for advertising from all the different “silos” in the digital advertising world. (Those silos are illustrated in the “technology tax” chart below.) Each of those areas often has its own data management platform, but ONE is supposed to unify that data, giving advertisers a comprehensive view of things like reach, frequency, and performance across all of their spending. By bringing that data together, Lord said ONE can help advertisers identify many existing inefficiencies in their systems and reduce unnecessary costs.

aol tech tax

He also said this offers a truly cross-screen approach, covering video and display advertising on TVs, tablets, and mobile devices.

AOL is also announcing that IPG MediaBrands has signed on as the “the charter agency network partner” for ONE, part of IPG’s broader goal of automating half of all its ad buying by 2016. Lord said that the significant financial commitment from an important agency like IPG creates “that impetus in the marketplace” that can push broader shifts in the industry.

In terms of making these ambitious plans a reality, Lord said AOL will be able to offer a unified customer record in the third quarter, followed by a single interface for ad buying by the end of the year. However, he said the act of announcing ONE is “a big deal” in and of itself. In his experience on the agency side, buying ads from AOL was really about buying an ad on the Huffington Post, or on Patch. With today’s announcement, AOL is saying (in Lord’s words), “It’s all about the technology platforms.”

“We’re going to stand up with [IPG MediaBrands CEO Matt Seiler] and say, ‘We’re committing to the technology, we’re committing to moving the spending dollars,'” Armstrong added.

The sites that AOL own, such as Huffington Post and TechCrunch, have a role to play as well, Lord said, because they’ll be the place where “I’m eating my own dog food,” i.e., allowing AOL to get the publisher experience and trying out different technologies.

Asked if there’s any potential conflict between AOL operating its own properties and trying to bring outside publishers on-board the wider platform, Lord said a few publishers have used that as excuse, but he argued, “The value we bring to publisher is so great that it’s a ridiculous argument. Quite honestly, I’m not bidding my AOL property versus their property.”