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Why we might want to take AOL’s latest ad revenues with a pinch of salt

This week, one of the ‘elders’ of the internet, AOL, announced that its ad revenue had soared to its highest level in the past seven years, up 7 per cent to $340 million. This is perhaps a reflection on the wave of innovation coming out of the online display marketing world – numerous new, more interactive formats which readily enable advertisers to engage with their consumer audiences. Rich media is moving the whole space beyond static banner ads, building campaigns that include more interesting content that cleverly promote key brand messages – be it catalogues of relevant products, adverts including games or price comparison mechanisms.

These innovations may well have prompted a rise in ad spend on some of the largest portals on the internet, such as AOL. But the reality is that they aren’t necessarily the areas of the web where consumers automatically turn to. A cursory glance at the latest Comscore figures reveals that consumer’s usage of sites specific to sport is ten times greater than that of AOL sport, for example.

This is also in line with recent research we carried out with YouGov, featured in Mediasyndicator’s Vertical Engagement Report. We found that 92 per cent of consumers now visit sites relevant to their interests when searching for content on the web – the main reason being that they regard these as reliable sources of information.

A mixture of innovative new formats and online heritage where the first pages consumers used to see when they opened browsers were sites such as AOL, Yahoo or MSN, has most likely laid at the heart of the boom in ad spend on these sites. But marketers need to think carefully about the environments in which they house the wave of exciting new campaigns emerging if they are to make sure campaigns are effective and relevant to what consumers are looking for online. This isn’t necessarily easily recognisable portals. Patterns in consumer online media consumption have transformed since the early days of the web and consumers’ reliance on these sites has changed.

While AOL, Yahoo and MSN etc. still hold a prominent position in the internet’s ecosystem, consumers are evolving the different ways they engage with content online and the generic nature of these large portals means they are no longer hold the significance they once did. Our results help to demonstrate that consumers are increasingly turning to a wider range of sites relevant to their interests as a source of trusted and engaging information. For campaigns to be truly effective, advertisers therefore might want to reconsider the obvious choice of running campaigns through household name publishers.

It is up to the advertising community to work with publishers of smaller, interest specific sites to capture their attentive audience, where the many innovations in how to advertise online will have even greater opportunity to resonate.

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