AOL is preparing to launch a new super-sized ad format across its properties on Monday, designed to minimize ad clutter and maximize advertiser impact. The announcement follows initiatives by the OPA, which proposed a number of larger ad units last year and conducted trials with major publishers including Hearst and the New York Times.
According to AOL, both the effectiveness of advertising and the accessibility of content on the Internet are being diminished by ad clutter. Its solution is to bundle the ad real estate on its pages into one large-scale ad unit, enabling brands to occupy a much larger portion of the page and limiting clutter from banners, brand logos, and text ads.
The format will enable advertisers to make use of a range of modules, or "apps," within the ad unit itself. These include provisions for multimedia and video content, mapping, social media integration, data capture, and other functionality. AOL's advertiser specifications for the units do not mention the inclusion of Adobe Flash content, suggesting they could be built entirely in HTML, and therefore compatible with all web-enabled devices - including Apple's products which do not support the plug-in.
Mock-ups of the new units published by the Wall Street Times feature brands including Audi, Burberry, Verizon, and Lexus, suggesting they could be among the first brands to make use of the new units.
On its advertiser-focused site, information about the new unit - dubbed "Project Devil" - states, "We believe that content is the most important part of the Internet, and should be treated that way. We believe that advertising is content too, and should be held to equally high standards. Above all, we believe the Internet should be a more engaging, useful and beautiful place."
The demo ads published in AOL's advertiser guide appear to be considerably larger than the 300 x 600 ads that have gained traction among online ad buyers, and in the webpage mock-ups are the only advertiser content visible on the page.
With publishers battling to increase yield from their display ad inventory, and advertisers demanding more effective ways to grab users' attention, the industry has experimented with a range of ad formats over 18 months. In March 2009 the Online Publishers Association launched a number of large units, including the 468 x 648 "XXL Box" and the 970 x 428 "pushdown." Publishers including Hearst, ESPN, The New York Times, MTV Universal, and Condé Nast Digital all agreed to trials of the new formats, but none have become ubiquitous.
Meanwhile, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong said his company's significant drop in ad revenue during the first three months of the year was partly due to its limiting of ad clutter, which resulted in the sale of less inventory.
Armstrong has placed repeated emphasis on AOL's content-focused strategy, which it hopes will attract ad dollars from big brand advertisers. The new units certainly appear firmly geared towards those buyers, but time will tell how much advertisers are willing to pay for a slice of ad real estate of that size.
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March 19, 2014