By Evan DeSimone
With over 20 years of experience in the ad industry, Jim Norton has had a front row seat to the rise of digital advertising. As head of advertising sales for AOL’s entire brand portfolio, he has steered the monetization of web media staples like The Huffington Post, Engadget, StyleList, AOL On and MapQuest. Norton also chairs the American Ad Federation, a position from which he has championed innovative partnerships as a means to keep the digital ad space vibrant and thriving.
We sat down with Jim to discuss his goals for the chairmanship, his insights into the digital advertising space, and how he sees the roll of video evolving both at AOL and as the future of the industry itself.
As chairman of the American Ad Federation, what do you hope to accomplish?
I’m a big proponent of partnerships. The truth is no one can win this industry alone. I think a big part of my role is helping big brands — and ad guys, and content creators, everyone — helping them see the huge benefits that are possible with successful partnerships. It’s more than just receiving ad money and spitting out ads. I don’t just mean superficial business deals — I mean really integrated partnerships. Successfully elevating a brand is elevating your own brand.
This question gets asked a lot, but in your opinion, what are some major issues in digital advertising, and what will it take to overcome them?
There have always been two big issues: ad fraud and viewability. Ad fraud is a trust issue. We need to work together industry-wide to develop a network of trusted partners at each step of the ad cycle. It is very basic in theory — -to know where everything is going and know where the views are coming from — but very hard in practice. This will take buy-in and commitment from many players to work well.
Viewability, in my mind, is a standards issue. Of course there are many sites that just don’t cut it, but even at the premium level, the industry has to work together to come up with a universal set of guidelines that are realistic. An industry-wide commitment to quality will make everything higher quality.
Are there any issues that you feel the industry has made a lot of strides in overcoming?
Storytelling. I think the ad industry has always had the idea that good advertorial content is, at its core, about storytelling. We’ve come a long way from flashing banner ads. There are some really compelling, amazing pieces of content out there that ad people of the past (and consumers) could never have imagined. We’ve learned to take risks along with the content creators, and that should and will continue as the industry develops.
Video — both as content and advertising — as a key business area for AOL. To get an idea of how integral it is to AOL’s business, how much of what you do involves video?
Video is everywhere, of course, but we are always sure that we are thinking about it in a holistic way, as part of a larger advertising strategy. Everything we do touches video in some way, and we are definitely going to be finding new and creative ways to use video in all parts of our business.
AOL’s capabilities in video and digital advertising are said to be key for Verizon’s decision to acquire the company. What can we expect from AOL on both of those fronts now that it’s a Verizon subsidiary?
In short, it can only get better. Verizon’s huge network and reach makes it the perfect partner for AOL’s full-stack ad-tech platform. I’m excited about the huge potential this partnership has.
AOL will continue doing what it does best, which is to offer a powerful distribution platform that will pair with Verizon’s great network.
In the announcement, AOL said with the acquisition it would be able to offer a better “content platform” spanning all screens. Can you share more insight on what that could look like?
OTT is a huge factor in how consumer and publishers are both sharing and viewing content, and we are incredibly excited about what the next few months and years look like with our new partners at Verizon.