Bob Lord and the AOL Networks philosophy

December 12, 2013  |  Alicia Androich  |  Comments

As AOL Networks‘ CEO, Bob Lord is leading the company through digital media’s latest period of remarkable change. He’s been at AOL less than a year, but arrived in the summer with a healthy CV: former CEO of Publicis Groupe’s Digital Technologies Division and more than a decade of experience at Razorfish.

Now based in New York and reporting to AOL chairman and CEO Tim Armstrong, Lord agreed to an exclusive interview with Marketing to share some predictions about AOL and the industry in general for 2014.

The growth of automation

“Programmatic [buying] does not mean RTB,” Lord says. “It means automating the media process so that I don’t have IOs flying back and forth and I can capture data in a unique way and actually inform my audience target segments.”

The ad tech industry often makes the marketplace seem more complicated than it is, he says. “You go to Amazon, you want to buy a shirt. You know what the price of the shirt is going to be. You buy it. It’s delivered to your house.” The same sort of system should exist in the marketplaces for buying media, and he says technology will help with that moving forward.

“We have an audience that wants to be matched up with an advertiser and a publisher’s content. We want to match those two things up” and AOL will simplify that through automation.

Lord was pleasantly surprised when 650 attendees came out to AOL’s programmatic upfront in September, shortly after he started at the company. “It was just a blowout. I was like, ‘Okay, was this just a blip or is this really real?’” He says the media industry is curious about how to strategically work with AOL on programmatic buys, but there’s still education that needs to happen.

Open ecosystems

Today’s CMOs need to know their consumers on a deep level—who they are, what they like and what drives their behaviour. Lord doesn’t think unearthing these insights should be delegated out to a brand’s ad agency. He references AOL’s AdLearn Open Platform, an ad optimization technology, as an example of an open ecosystem. The platform allows media planners see what kind of optimization is being done and what kind of publishers are having an impact.

AOL’s technology philosophy gives brands and agencies the freedom to use other company’s targeting tools in conjunction with the AdLearn Open Platform. If a brand has made an investment in Omniture’s software, for example, AOL’s philosophy is “we will give you an alternative, but if you’ve invested heavily into Omniture, we will plug that targeting tool into our stack on your behalf.

“We believe that every brand and every agency has a particular bias, and that’s part of their competitive advantage. But we want to be at the center of the ecosystem. It’s the difference between being iPhone and an Android phone. On Android phones, they allow developers to go on and develop things to customize it. The Apple system is very proprietary. We’re going to be the former.”

Giving richer experiences

There’s a big push at AOL to code premium ads in HTML5, says Lord, which allows for some pretty cool value exchanges with customers. For instance, he says rather than just serve an ad up, AOL can serve up all the local inventory for a Toyota dealer in the Toronto area to show the consumer how many white Camrys are in stock. He believes companies will offer more of these types of premium real-time ad experiences in 2014.


In order to drive their global business strategies, brands need to think about convergence more in 2014, says Lord. Solving today’s marketing problems means thinking about media, creativity and technology simultaneously. “Most large brands today have siloed organizations that don’t do that,” he says. He believes the brands doing phenomenal marketing are the ones that “think about media and data to inform how to target customers. And they’re thinking about how to not just present them a product, but how to fulfill consumer needs at the time that the product’s being presented.”

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