So far, AOL has guaranteed programmatic upfront deals with Hyatt Hotels & Resorts and LG Home Appliances; representatives from those marketers appeared with their respective agency partners to tout their devotion to pushing brand campaigns dollars through programmatic channels.
"The idea that programmatic doesn't require planning is ridiculous," said Amir Ashkenazi. "If anything, it requires more advanced planning. You need to find the right platform, you need to find the right data in order to define the right strategies."
Earlier, Toby Gabriner, president of Adap.tv, and Lord, emphasized the time-saving value of using automated ad processes for "premium," guaranteed ad dollars by saying doing so will give back "brain space" to agencies for more creative thinking.
"We know we're losing 40 to 60 percent of marketing dollars to inefficiency," Lord said during his presentation. "I personally know that creative agencies have to fight the mundane. We have to embrace the undeniable truth that technology and media are coming together."
As for the commitments to technology Lord talked about, the other big piece of information that AOL sought to convey was that AdLearn, which has generally been considered AOL's demand side platform, will now be considered a fuller marketplace system by next year, said Seth Demsey, SVP of global advertising products and strategy for AOL Networks.
"AdLearn will be more than a DSP, with reserved and non-reserved being sold on the same platform," Demsey said. The expanded AdLearn will have ability to do three new things: frequency capping; built in reach and frequency settings for reserved and non-reserved; and direct buying connections into publishers' private marketplaces. Much of the new capabilities are being powered by online video marketplace Adap.tv, which AOL acquired a month ago for $405 million.
While there was some grumbling about the notion of the TV upfront being transposed for what some described as a technology showcase, AOL executives felt that the idea of committing future spending made the term useful for media buyers to easily grasp. Still, some will take some getting used to, even as the series of videos and presentations rivaled the glitz and spectacle typical of the broadcast and cable TV networks upfront extravaganzas.
"I'm not sure if upfront is the right way to frame it," said Amanda Richman, president of Investment & Activation at Publicis' Starcom. "Bringing premium inventory into an exchange environment, making it more available and on-demand is sound for the industry to operate in a more automated way. But in terms of an upfront, which signals a period of buying and negotiation, it's hard to say with this is the right label. But the intent is right."