Wednesday, January 25, 2006

AOL - New Marketing Avenues

AOL sure knows how to throw a party. Whereas MSN’s recent lunch looked like something that was planned the day before (sorry MSN, but it’s true) – AOL had a premier venue, first rate gourmet food, and a polished, exciting multimedia presentation that was on topic.

Zunch, along with other major online advertising firms in Dallas, was invited to a lunch with AOL last week, where they were rolling out the new programming, talking about advertising opportunities, and oh, sure, addressing that Google thing.

Yes, we were mostly interested in that Google thing. And addressing it was something like this: “We know there’s an elephant in the room, and everyone wants to talk about it – so before we get to the meat of the program, we will. Yes. It’s an elephant. Next topic.” All they did was acknowledge that there is indeed a partnership. But the presentation wasn’t about search – it was about programming.

I haven’t paid much attention to AOL in a few years. Now, however, it looks like AOL has grown up. It’s opening up programming to non-subscribers, and embracing interactive media in exciting ways. The concept of marketing fully integrated into programming has never been closer to being realized. And well, it’s hard to argue with numbers like 112 million new uniques a month on the network

For example: you go to an AOL channel, like fashion. On that channel, they have programming that is determined in part by user feedback and preferences. They run user commentary. The page has spots for advertising on the top, on the screen playing the video program, within the video program… you can skin the whole thing… taking over the design of the page for a limited time while the program runs –putting your brand name in the face of the viewer… and they even have the ability to click on the image in the program and be led to sources to buy that product. Yes, this latter is limited right now, but has tremendous possibility.

Other opportunities include blog marketing and product reviews.

With so much programming, you have channels to reach several specific demographics. They focused on the following, but there are many more:

  • Music (with unique concerts and unplugged shows as well as videos, mp3s and artist information – much like Yahoo Launch) – with more live music programming than any other site, they have the potential to draw a lot of repeat visitors
  • Celebrities – entertainment news and gossip, the kind content that gets people talking
  • Television – the closest thing to true TV on demand that exists. Choose which programs you want to watch, when, from Warner Bros. inventory – with interactive features like information about the actors and the episodes
  • Gaming – reviews and clips of video games and platforms, a great place to reach young males with disposable income
  • AOL news – where people spend a remarkable 28 minutes per visit on average. A good potential venue for more sophisticated advertising, perhaps – messages that are more complex than the usual eye-blink a user spends taking in a page
  • Movies – not only the basic movie information look-up, but fun programs like “Unscripted” where celebs interview one another using a combination of viewer’s and their own questions
  • Life Coaches – aimed largely at a slightly older and mostly female demographic, a group that is known to have powerful brand loyalty once you win them over
  • Professional Blogs – not just the personal blogs they have on their main site, but some of the most well-respected and often visited blogs out there. Blog marketing is just beginning to develop – and there is a lot of potential for businesses to utilize this type of venue
  • Fashion – some of the best usage of interactive marketing here. Those shoes the model is wearing? They cost $346 at Nordstrom.com
  • Kids programming – get ‘em while they’re young! Advertise on websites with content parents trust and kids enjoy

While much of the type of advertising they offer is currently outside of our scope, I certainly see the possibility for Zunch to grow in this direction – especially as the difference between in-programming spots, skins, blog marketing, and search marketing continue to be blurred.


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