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Could AOL’s Project Devil Be the Future of Display Advertising?



When it comes to advertising, AOL says bigger is better. They also say cleaner, more engaging and more focused is better, too and that’s why they created Project Devil.

Project Devil is a new form of display advertising that relies on online-magazine style content in order to promote a product. The ad is designed to occupy the entire right sidebar of a webpage, with every inch devoted to only one sponsor.

JCPenney’s devil ad has a slideshow of winter fashions, over a fashion video and below that is a widget showing their Facebook fan page feed. Olay features an ad with roll-over information and Lexus offers downloadable high-def images of their featured cars.

AOL began rolling out the ads last month, placing them on their moviefone.com and StyleList.com websites. AOL says they’ll roll out the ads on eight more sites by November partnering with Cheerios, Macy’s, Pillsbury Crescents, Sprint, and Suave Professionals. According to an article in ClickZ, this is the next step in rolling out devil ads across the web, including sites not owned by AOL.

The upside of a devil ad is that it reduces page clutter and keeps the focus on one, tightly-targeted client. Devil ads can be designed to look like the pages they’re featured on so visitors may click a video not even realizing that it’s an advertisement.

Magazines has been printing advertorials like these for years now, so why not bring the concept to the web? Well, a couple of reasons. The biggest downside to AOL’s devil ads is that financially, they’re limited to the big brands. And since the ad takes up the entire sidebar the number of advertisers serviced is greatly reduced.

The domino effect of less ads, means less clicks per page, but AOL’s Dirk Freytag says he’s not worried.

“He said although the inventory volume has decreased, ad revenue has remained the same. The company expects its ad revenue to grow as the Devil promos are disseminated across its sites.”

It’s too early to tell if these new devil ads are a success, but they have everything going for them. Interactivity, video, and social media integration, all in one, non-invasive package. And as brands become more savvy about creating ads that look like content, it won’t be long before we would be able to tell one from the other — not without a second look.

What do you think of Project Devil? Could it be the future of display marketing?

  • http://www.Daxle.net Brian Oates

    “…designed to look like the pages they’re featured on so visitors may click a video not even realizing that it’s an advertisement.”

    I don’t think tricking people is good branding.

    • http://oswco.com Tom Brander

      Amazing the thought process,, I never visit any AOL property if I can avoid it since they are so completely associated with spammy cr*** I even managed to finally get my 81 year old Mom off of AOL mail and onto Gmail which now has a 1 click conversion process that even pulls all contacts and historical e-mail and sets yo forwarding.. The AOL ethics model has not changed,, it is baked into the culture and that is not good.

    • Michael Sands

      I agree that there could be some ethical issues when you get into creating advertisements that people don’t recognize as advertisments. It is not quite on the level of advertorials, but I think they need to be careful of this. I do like the idea of having bigger advertisements that capture the reader’s attention and eliminate the clutter of having a bunch of little advertisements. This plays very much into the Bauhaus philosophy of keeping it simple.

  • http://www.frankthinking.com Frank Reed

    OK – let’s get this straight. You name your project “Project Devil”. Ummm – enough said.

    When will AOL take its head out of a certain part of its anatomy and join the rest of us in the real world?

    • http://twitter.com/angle45media What the click-through?

      Haha, right? AOL is pretty much behind the curve…

      It’s pretty bad when your brand (AOL) is synonymous with sound of a dial up modem.

    • Cynthia

      i resisted time and time again, the urge to comment on their choice of name. That just boggles me.

  • http://twitter.com/angle45media What the click-through?

    CTR please?

    The most useful piece of information that this article is missing…

    • Cynthia

      Well, that’s the point. AOL isn’t saying. It’s surprising that they’re even saying the click throughs have dropped, but they claim the ad revenue is the same.