Interview: AOL’s Levick Looks To Tear Down Ad Unit Silos

Efforts to integrate the various companies of Platform-A (NYSE: TWX) over the past year haven’t gone far enough, AOL global ad chief Jeff Levick told paidContent. And while the Platform-A brand might stick around, at least for the time being, some of the names of the units might not, Levick implied, as he talked about various ways of instilling greater cohesion at the company. He spoke about the changes on the ad side, including the removal of most ads from the AOL home page, and how it fits in with the new corporate strategy from AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, Levick’s former Google (NSDQ: GOOG) colleague.

Solving display: Apart from the wider industry ad pullback in display, AOL’s weakness in the space has been due to its limited scope, Levick said. “We want to be the world’s biggest platform for display advertising. The way to do that is to open it up to all advertisers and publishers large and small.’s growth is limited to our ability to strike exclusive relationships with publishers and to work directly with advertisers. We want to have a self-service interface, so people who access display advertising can do that through … Today, the business has been limited to large advertisers and ad agencies. We want to open that up. And besides, if you’re going to do something, you might as well go big.” In other ad moves, Levick pointed out that all advertising inventory has been removed from the home page, except for one spot, saying that one of the best ways to attract advertisers is to ensure a better user experience. Separately, Armstrong’s 100-day staff memo also amplifies the reduction of inventory elsewhere, highlighting that roughly
60 percent of MapQuest’s ads have been removed from “some important pages.”

Platform-A here to stay (for now): It would be an understatement to say that AOL’s advertising operations have had a great deal of upheaval since it formed Platform-A in late 2007 to house a panoply of ad acquisitions. But Levick suggested that some advertisers and agencies may find the current structure unwieldy. When asked if Platform-A would be abandoned as a brand, Levick said that there have been no decisions one way or the other.

Getting holistic: The same was true when it came to whether the current brand names like behavioral targeter Tacoda or contextual targeter Quigo would continue, and he was particularly resistant to say definitively which was he was leaning or when a final decision could be expected. “It’s definitely something that we’re looking at,” he said. “The overarching goal is to make sure we are the easiest company to work with for advertisers and agencies. I think it’s less about what we call ourselves and more about what we deliver. I don’t want to get hung up on nomenclature.” In general, Levick and Armstrong are promising to take all of AOL’s far-flung businesses and make them more complementary. But achieving “holistic-ness” has has been a constant goal at AOL — a goal that has been thwarted just as often has it has been promised.