paidContent - Interview: AOL's Levick: 'Platform-A Didn't Make Us Work Better; It Just Made Clients Confused'

This story was written by David Kaplan.
One of the big pieces of news was that came of out AOL (NYSE: TWX) CEO Tim Armstrong’s 100-day presentation to the company’s staff was the formation of three primarily business units: AOL Advertising, AOL Media and AOL Ventures. I spoke with Jeff Levick, president of Global Advertising and Strategy, about the decision to drop the Platform-A brand and why he and Armstrong have decided to embrace the brand with almost as much fervor as erstwhile Randy Falco and Ron Grant appeared to be running away from it.

In the meantime, following up on comments made in an interview with paidContent last week, it looks like some of the brands within Platform-A are likely to be sidelined to some extent as well at some point. Levick, speaking from his car as he was driving back to Manhattan, insisted that there wasn’t a wholesale rush to drop the brand names that were created over past few years. For example, while content unit MediaGlow is being moved into AOL Media, which will be run by Bill Wilson, that brand remains. Levick said—at least for now.

David Kaplan: It looked like Platform-As fate had been decided around the time of your arrival, when the units third president was let go and you were instead given the title of president, Global Advertising and Strategy. Was that the case? Was there a debate about keeping the Platform-A brand?
Jeff Levick: There were no decisions about Platform-A when I joined AOL. The big change when I came in and it was driven by need, not by me or anyone else was that in order to be successful, you need to think holistically. That entailed taking a larger look at the business, not just parts here and there. My job was to look a little higher than the company had looked before and determine what are the businesses we want to be in and what need to do to be successful. The very last piece for the respective businesses was What do you call yourself? As we thought about our advertising strategy over the last few weeks, it was about advertising on behalf of the company that is, to our owned and operated sites and extending throughout the web through Advertising.com. It seemed logical than that the name of our business should be AOL Advertising and less about what we had been calling it before.

So if Platform-A wasnt dead on your arrival, what was the debate about in terms of whether to keep it or drop it?
Platform-A didnt make the products better, it didnt make it easier for clients to understand what we did and it didnt make it easier for us to work together better as a company on a uniform basis. And it was clear, after talking with a lot of customers and agencies, instead of trying to do something great for them, we were just confusing them.

What about the individual units within Platform-A? The presentation today only mentioned Advertising.com and AdTech by name. Does that mean the other units brands will disappear as well? For example, I havent heard too much about media ad specialist Lightningcast since it was acquired about three years ago. And Tacoda had appeared on the verge of being dismantled a year ago.
The point of AOL Advertising is to serve as the master brand for all the ad solutions we offer as a company. Advertising.com represents the display network we run and its also the basis for the larger self-service ad program well bring to market. The third part is AdTech, which is the a serving technology that we both sell into the market its quite competitive, especially in Europe, for one thing and we also use it to serve ads on the AOL properties. Those are the three major lines of business.

As for the other sub-brands you mentioned, we continue down the path of integrating those into the larger feature set of advertiser solutions. So instead of focusing on Tacoda or Third Screen Media, were focused generally on behavioral targeting or mobile advertising initiatives. Again, were thinking holistically about our offerings, not the suite of sub-brands.

So it is safe to assume that some of those sub-brands will wind up on the AOL Ventures bin, where the company can determine whether these services can be retooled or sold off?
Anything is possible. As of now, we havent talked about any of those sub-brands going into AOL Ventures. On a more accelerated basis, were going to figure out where everything does belong and how to bring it all more closely together. Then, if we have to make decisions as to whether they belong in AOL ventures or elsewhere, that will come later on.

Platform-A and MediaGlow were created by the old guard to distance the advertising and content offerings from the AOL brand, which was deemed somewhat anachronistic, since it was primarily known for the 25-year-old dial-up service. MediaGlow is now listed as a sub-brand of AOL Media, with its president Bill Wilson at the top. Is MediaGlow likely to fade away too?
MediaGlow remains our premium publishing business. And Bill Wilson and his team will continue to use it to create content. But just as AOL Advertising is a master brand, MediaGlow is simply part of the master brand of AOL Media.

But you and Tim have certainly done a complete 180-degree change (on advertising). Not only are you not running away from the AOL brand, but todays changes represent a pretty wide embrace. Do feel the brand still has inherent worth, and that its just been neglected? How do you think you can reinvigorate it?
Were definitely running toward the AOL brand and we do believe it continues to have great strength and deep meaning. Our opportunity is to continue to define what is behind that meaning with a look toward the next 25 years. The brand still has a high level of engagement from consumers. Well be investing in the AOL brand as well as outside ones. We think theres room for both.

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By David Kaplan