AOL’s First CMO — Chief ‘Mobile’ Officer, That Is — Seeks To Guide Offline Retailers To Online Video Ads

Previously EVP of Millennial Media’s platform business, Connon is looking ahead and talking to marketers about 'mobile-first,' not 'second-screen,' strategies.

Just as AOL executives were headed to last month’s Mobile World Congress, former Millennial Media EVP for Platforms Mark Connon was tapped as the Verizon-owned ad tech company’s first Global Chief Mobile Officer.

Connon’s career has perhaps made him naturally focused on being “mobile first,” but he believes the time has come for ad agencies and brands to join him in his viewpoint.

As he settles into the new post after returning from the mobile conference, Connon said he wants to concentrate on four areas:

  • Driving mobile engagement on apps: “Today, 87 percent of consumer engagement happens in app — and to be clear, not just one app but across an average of 5 apps per day.”
  • Video: “Everyone knows the video opportunity; it offers the highest engagement opportunities with consumers.”
  • Data: “You need access, scale and precision to compete at the highest levels. Brands want to know how they can combine first-party data from world-class media properties with rich third-party data in effective and open environments.”
  • Defining a strategy based on the notion of “open”: “In its simplest definition ‘open’ means ‘not closed.’ In media, ‘open’ means flexibility, control, transparency, free markets, access, scale, and fluidity. ‘Closed’ means restricted, unaccommodating, regulated, expensive, and biased. The ecosystem is crying out for ‘open.'”

GeoMarketing: What are your initial priorities/issues/items you plan to focus on as you settle into the role of Global Chief Mobile Officer?

Mark Connon: My main focus, at a high-level, is really to help AOL accelerate what I see as an unmatched mobile opportunity. I’m joining the company at a time when it’s uniquely positioned to lead.

The ways in which we consume content, or as an advertiser, drive consumption and generate revenue, have made drastic shifts toward mobile. That’s obvious. Audiences and advertisers alike want a connection to drive relevancy and reach. Mobile is the platform that can deliver on both ends.

This is where AOL stands alone and why I’m especially excited about the new role. Think about it – as a company, we sit at the center of mobile consumption and transactions.

We have granular audience data, an open platform and top-tier media properties like The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Engadget, Moviefone, and MAKERS. When you factor in Verizon and the recent acquisition of Millennial Media, AOL’s international reach, data, scale, infrastructure and ability to enable advertisers to unlock mobile is truly one-of-a-kind. I’ll be spearheading that effort, overall, converting potential into revenue for our mobile offerings, and our partners.

How do you view the state of location-based advertising and geo-data quality? Is there anything you can do in your new role to affect any changes in those areas on behalf of clients? Or is about riding the latest waves of change and ensuring that clients and AOL keeps up?

There is obviously huge value in location-based data. Those signals offer necessary hyper-localized insights for advanced consumer targeting. Through its acquisition of Millennial Media, AOL can target precise location through the Millennial Media SDK, which is embedded in over 65,000 mobile sites and apps.

Coupled with Verizon, we have a location solution with the fidelity and scale that is truly unique in the market. With quality achieved, we now get to focus on how to make this data actionable for brands, which is the most exciting part. Our goal is to provide advertisers and marketers with an open, agnostic platform that can hook into other services, pulling in first and third-party data at scale, and augmenting that with quality location data. AOL offers all of that through ONE by AOL, and the openness of the platform allows us to lead as a company and with our clients.

How are the use of sensors such as beacons, wi-fi, LED, GPS, etc… shaping mobile ad targeting?

Does the growth of these signals as ways of serving real-time messaging and drawing fuller consumer profiles also stand to affect the creative aspects of mobile marketing, as well as the media buying and placement?

Yes. Sensors, beacons, and the explosive growth of the Internet of Things (“IOT”) should and will have a major impact on how, when, and where advertisers will communicate with their customers. As the data has become more real-time through these technologies, to effectively act on it, the infrastructure, processes, and assets leveraged for buying and message delivery need to be more dynamic.

Media buying, on mobile and in general, has had to become more automated, through programmatic capabilities, in order to allow for real-time consumption of these signals, as well as the resulting need for faster decision-making once you see them.

With these capabilities comes a tremendous amount of responsibility to respect the consumer, deliver solutions that are desirable and enhance consumer experiences, and provide the type of return on investment that advertisers expect from such sophisticated and advanced solutions.

Why is mobile video — as opposed to say online video in general — so important for marketers to understand right now?

Everyone in this industry understands the video opportunity – and that it’s growing. It offers the highest engagement with consumers. And as web behavior migrates to mobile, mobile video becomes increasingly important. Consider that last year, video accounted for 55 percent of the world’s mobile data traffic. By 2020, it’s expected to grow to 75 percent. For mobile campaigns, video is the key.

How can physical retailers/businesses use location as a factor in their mobile video advertising?

Advertisers are already leaning into mobile video. In retail, for example, brands and advertisers are pairing mobile video formats with geo-data and other targeting in order to elevate reach and relevancy.

We continue to see increased interest in our mobile video solutions from existing and potential brick-and-mortar retail clients.

The interest isn’t just because this is the device of choice for consumers today. The targeting capabilities, through location-based data, help optimize opportunities and value, and the presentation of video on these devices can create one of the best and most personal consumer interactions available today.

A map of Buzzard's Bay.
A map of Buzzard’s Bay.

What’s your view on the idea of “mobile as the second screen?”

Today, for consumers and advertisers alike, mobile is really the first-screen, and in the case of my teenage kids, it seems like it’s the only screen. Mobile outpaces desktop web consumption overall, according to comScore. This is the future of digital consumption, from browsing to search to video, entertainment and beyond.

In the next five years, this mobile trend will only become more pronounced. It’s exciting because AOL is building toward, and is best positioned to drive, opportunities in this environment.

Lastly, our bonus question, since we’re a news site that’s focused on place-based technology: what’s your favorite location/place to be and why?

With my wife and kids skiing in the winter and cruising Buzzards Bay, MA in the summer. Why? Because as rewarding as working hard is, playing hard and enjoying time with my family in these special places make it all worthwhile.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.