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Nov 03, 2002

AOL's EVP of Strategy Lon Otremba on Now That the Pop-Up Party's Over

SUMMARY: Short but sweet. In this quick interview, AOL's Lon Otremba suggests a few ways online advertisers can still get pretty good response rates, without relying on annoying interruptive spots.
As more and more sites reduce interruptive advertising such as pop-ups, advertisers need to find alternate formats that work. We contacted AOL's EVP of Strategy Lon Otremba to get his advice.

"It's time to think outside of the banner," Otremba says. "CNET has done a great job of leading the industry to think outside of the box."

Otremba says, "Threading the opportunity in more of a horizontal way - rather than in a single entry point - creates less friction between the user, the content and the advertising enabling good content and good ad execution to co-exist on the same page."

Along those lines, AOL has been recommending "roadblocks" to its advertisers.

These ads, spread throughout the service in a consistent way are a plus because, "They don't cost a lot but are wisely done and executed," Otremba says. "It's not just about dropping $5 million and buying all the available inventory. It's about understanding, in a smart way, what the audience is trying to reach and what they will want to take advantage of."

For instance, AOL's new 8.0 version has shifted programming to reflect where most people use the service that day.

Example: AOL found that on Sundays the heaviest traffic comes from users checking up on sports scores. They divided the day into four parts and expanded sports coverage in the late afternoon and evening day-parts. "With more coverage and content we can sell advertisers that day-part specifically. That way advertisers have the opportunity to tap into programming ? and more importantly relevant content - as it exists at different times."

Otremba is also a big fan of contextual advertising.

"Marketers need to think about ways to create a context that is valuable to the user. That means placement where there is similar content," Otremba says. "It's very difficult to present an opportunity to a user ? especially an AOL member who pays a lot of money every month to be satisfied ? in a highly disruptive way. An offer has to feels like it has value and users have a hard time perceiving a brand in a positive light when it interrupts what they're doing."

At the same time, there are out-of-banner, rich-media executions that, while somewhat disruptive, can still be appropriate. Otremba explains, "An obvious example would be a movie ad where Harry Potter flies across the screen on his broom in the middle of an entertainment screen."

Conducting campaigns that work in AOL' popular chat and community areas is harder. Otremba admits, "We have done sadly little to really come up with good advertising products in community boards and chat."

"It's one of those things nobody really thought it through well the first time around. Most advertisers tried to shovel a more traditional ad unit into that world and it just didn't fit there. When it didn't work for advertiser or the member, everyone became disillusioned by it."

Otremba adds, "It may have failed because it was poorly conceived, but I'm convinced it can be and incredibly valuable opportunity for advertisers."

It is not as simple as sticking an ad banner on a screen. "It's also more than the unit being relevant to the surroundings. "When it comes to community there is a real sense of relationship. If you're participating in a cancer survivor chat, as a survivor there is a very high degree of affinity for that group."

Which means you can not just run your standard creative. "This can't be a one-size-fits-all solution."

Ads in this context also need to coincide with the more active environment. "Ads in the traditional context have a passive involvement ? when a user is reading something they can choose to click on the banner," Otremba says. "But that's very different from a member who is highly involved in a chat or in a discussion group. The new products we're testing would take advantage of that direct involvement, lean-forward activity. It's the kind of thing where you can merge product more directly and bring a marketer into that world."

Want to meet Otremba in person to ask him your questions?He will be speaking at the Ad Tech Show at the Hilton Hotel in New York, November 18-20, 2002 For more information go to
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