Marketers Ready for Ripples from AOL/Google Deal Expansion

Media buyers are eagerly awaiting details and pondering the possibilities of the expected expanded alliance between America Online and Google. The most interesting tidbits surfacing in the published reports, they say, are the potential for AOL’s sales force to sell display ads on Google’s contextual network and the audience growth the deal could bring to AOL’s Web properties.

“Anything that aggregates partners and lessens the number of people that media buyers have to talk to obviously makes the process more efficient,” Jeff Marshall, SVP and managing director of Starcom IP, told ClickZ News. “If they can find a more effective way to bring together and Google’s network, instead of two RFPs, there would only be one.”

Mediasmith CEO David Smith wonders if ads AOL would sell on Google content would be served by a third-party ad server — a development that could give advertisers more control and more visibility.

Starcom IP’s Marshall suggests the pairing could give marketers something they covet even more — behavioral targeting on a grand scale.

“If they can connect that [Google] ad network and AOL’s ad network and tie the search behavior back to that, all of a sudden you’ve got a very powerful tool,” he said. “Of course, search is gynormous and continuing to grow but, as it stands today, it’s bid-based text messaging. If you can take that behavior and find them [consumers] later and serve display advertising to them, all of a sudden you’re marrying the most powerful way to target someone with the power to deliver sight and sound and motion.”

Marshall also notes that the agreement — which is expected to give AOL prominent links on Google search results pages and in Google Video — could boost the strength of, the company’s various new Web properties, and its bid to capitalize on video content.

“It gets more of the right eyeballs in front of the right types of content,” Marshall said. “It drives more usage of AOL’s content, both from a text-based perspective and from the video that they have there.”

Smith notes that AOL has been making strides toward courting advertisers in recent years. “They’re getting increasingly easier to do business with,” he said, noting that the company already has a large audience without the benefits of Google-generated traffic.

A Google/AOL match-up would be a big loss for Microsoft’s MSN, which had reportedly seen an AOL relationship as a way to expand its search technology and advertising platforms. But media and search buyers say it’s too early to count out MSN.

“They’ve got a huge audience and have just moved MSN under the same division as the Windows operating group,” said Smith. “We haven’t even seen what that’s going to mean yet. The implications of that seem to be huge.”

Peter Hershberg, managing partner of Reprise Media, says MSN’s advertising plans hold a lot of promise, but there are still a lot of unknowns — which might have harmed the property in negotiations with AOL.

“So far, they’ve been unable to get their [adCenter] product out of beta and fully launch,” he said. “Unless they can do that, they can’t turn off Yahoo distribution across Until such time as MSN can prove they have a viable system, many of the larger distribution partners will hesitate about entering into a long-term agreement with them.”

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