Will AOL’s Project Devil Change the Whole Look of the Web?

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Last Thursday, I dropped into the Times Center in midtown New York City for the third iteration of the Advertising Week conference. Billed as North America’s premier gathering of cutting-edge communications leaders, a hybrid of thought leadership and special event programming, the conference featured boldface names on the roster like Spike Lee, Charlie Rose, Tyra Banks, Arianna Huffington, and representatives of just about every media company, ad agency, magazine publisher, and major advertiser on the planet.

Panelists included the CEOS of Twitter, AOL, Publicis USA, Razorfish, and Ogilvy and Mather North America; the advertising columnists Randall Rothenberg and Stuart Elliot; and even a designer or two, like Brian Collins of Collins and Rick Boyco of the VCU Brandcenter. Topics included diversity, multiculturalism, agency-client relationships and, mostly, engaging consumers and driving sales—on TV, in-store, online, in their homes, on their phones, everywhere.

Redesigned: Aol’s Project Devil ad in the current issue of Adweek and Brandweek demonstrates how the typical messy web page can be turned into “a more engaging, useful and beautiful place.”

“We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of how brands will interact with customers,” proclaimed Quentin George, chief digital officer of global digital marketing company Mediabrands at a session entitled “Leading Edge Technologies 3.0.” Brands will have much more precise ways to reach consumers and will literally talk to them directly, he predicted . It’s already starting to happen in L.A.: your favorite television network personality phones you every morning—a wake-up call—to say ‘good morning’ and give you the weather and traffic.

Aol was the biggest story of the day. Panelists predicted a big Aol comeback with Project Devil, developed to change the whole look and feel of the Web. No more junky little ads and sponsored links. No click-through. An advertiser will be able to own a web page with a half-screen or full-screen display ad. A “Devil Page, designed to create a better experience for consumers and better results for advertisers,” will provide the same kind of showcase as a double-page-spread, color, bleed magazine ad. Designers and ad agency creative directors and art directors should be really, really happy.

Aol buttons were a popular giveaway item at the Adweek conference. The new Aol identity by Wolff Olins is a winner in this year's "365" competition, which opened Thursday at the AIGA National Design Center. Icons also include a kiss, a paint drip, a baby, a cloud, and a jellyfish.

And all seemed to agree about the dizzying potential of Facebook advertising: Big brands want to “friend” you way more than your real friends do, and are paying big bucks to do so. Mountain Dew spends $25 million a year on its Facebook strategy, and 15 million people “like” Starbucks’ page. Pretty soon, when you “like” an advertiser’s page, its ads will appear right in your news feed or wall.

Ads in your news feed next to half-page, magazine-style ads. What’s next for keeping in touch with your friends. Hand-written notes on engraved stationery?