Oath: Forget being the third force... we want to be number one

Three months after Verizon brought the AOL and Yahoo businesses together to form Oath, its chief revenue officer and president of ad platforms are bursting with confidence.

Oath: Devine and Mahlman
Oath: Devine and Mahlman

Speaking to Campaign at Dmexco, chief revenue officer John DeVine said that Oath did not merely want to become the third significant force in digital media that the likes of Martin Sorrell have called for: "We hope to be the first. [Oath chief executive] Tim Armstrong has set some real aggressive aspirations.

"We know we’re competing against some real strong players in the marketplace, but we think we have some real distinctive advantages – in our trusted content, distribution, data."

Armstrong’s aspirations are indeed aggressive: he is aiming to double the size of the combined audience for the business from one to two billion consumers by 2020, and double revenue in the same time frame.

A major plank of achieving these goals is rapid expansion outside North America, especially EMEA, which makes Germany’s Dmexco a crucial event for the business.

Oath was chosen to be a "values-based name", DeVine said, designed to reflect a "commitment to leadership" and trust.

The lack of trust in the digital media industry that has come into sharp focus in the last year – especially around the two major players, Google and Facebook – presented a strong opportunity for Oath to assume a position of industry leadership, he added.

"I don’t know if its a reaction specifically to those competitors, but I think the market is not getting served fully with what they want," he said. "And that creates an opportunity for Oath."

Tim Mahlman, president of ad platforms, said that Procter & Gamble chief brand officer Marc Pritchard had "definitely laid down the gavel" for the industry with his speech in January calling for a new era of digital transparency.

"It’s something that should have been done a long time ago because we let it exacerbate," Mahlman said. Along with Pritchard’s five key steps to transforming transparency, Mahlman identified ad-blocking as a critical issue.

"The responsibility falls on the industry," he said. "Maybe if we were more creative in how we were engaging with our consumers, maybe we wouldn’t be having that issue. The same thing would go with how we look at building formats that enable our publishers to want to work with us on a more regular basis."

With DeVine having previously been senior vice-president of global operations at Yahoo and Mahlman continuing his former role at AOL, the pair are representative of what DeVine called "two proud brands coming together with 20 long years of history".

Despite the challenges of what he described as "trying to execute a high difficulty landing in terms of getting the company together", both men come across as genuinely excited about the prospects of the company and of being part of a larger team – right down to sitting "within nerf gun range" of each other, as Mahlman puts it.

"The fact that in a three month period we’re already singing this closely in harmony, I think we feel very optimistic about the future," he said.

"We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t feel like we could win," DeVine added.

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