Colleen Aubrey has made Amazon an advertising powerhouse. Her insiders describe her as her ‘bad guy’ and say she could become the company’s next chief advertising officer.

  • Colleen Aubrey is one of Amazon’s oldest and most powerful advertising executives.
  • She helped build search ads for Amazon, which accounts for most of its $31 billion business.
  • She is tasked with developing advertising products that convince TV advertising buyers to spend money on Amazon.

This is the seventh in a 10-part series examining Amazon’s booming advertising business. The people driving it, the ripple effect on other companies, and so on.

In early May, Colleen Aubrey took the stage to promote Amazon’s first TV ad dollar at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s annual Digital NewFronts event. Boasting her purple hair and a bright yellow blazer, her appearance at her industry events was rare for an Amazon top executive.

Talking about Amazon’s ambition to grow beyond Amazon’s proven search ads and how it measures TV viewers better than linear TV, Aubrey acknowledged the importance of the moment.

“It feels surreal to talk to you here.


TV,” she told the audience. “Amazon has grown out of shopping and now we’re extending it to digital advertising.”

All eyes are now on Amazon’s advertising business. The e-commerce giant recently revealed that it generated $31 billion in advertising revenue in 2021, a figure that has tripled in 2018, making it the third-largest digital advertising company behind Google and Facebook. Along with providing new revenue streams, advertising has been the driving force behind Amazon’s move into areas such as physical stores and streaming video. And that success has spurred retailers like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy to build their own advertising businesses.

Key to this growth was Aubrey, Senior Vice President, Advertising Products and Technology. She has been involved in virtually every advertising product launched over the past 15 years and is currently responsible for growing new products in areas such as streaming TV and advertising technology.

That responsibility and her proximity to power — Aubrey is part of the S-team (S stands for “senior”), a small group of senior executives surrounding CEO Andy Jassy, ​​who she closely associates with Jeff Bezos and ad exec Close to Paul Kotas. — Her insiders have come to see her as her successor once her longtime boss, Kotas, steps down.

“It’s hard to find anyone other than Andy Jassy who has accomplished what she has,” said Connor Folley, senior vice president of corporate development and strategic partnerships at Jungle Scout, formerly Amazon Marketing Manager.

Aubrey ‘I don’t care what people think’

When Aubrey joined S-team in 2019, she was one of three women who were chief executives of Amazon. She is known for being truthful and anti-bias in her company.

In an interview at an Amazon event last year, Aubrey talked about getting a job at an investment firm in Europe early in her career and then leaving the company on the first day because the company didn’t allow her to wear a nose stud.

Aubrey recalled the decision today and said he still supports it.

“The discussion was about the importance of being your true self and the importance of putting your energy into building and delivering rather than trying to adapt,” she said. “Each of us can take control of our careers and choose jobs that are worth who we are. So we can focus our energy on doing great things. In this case, in one day, I realized that I wasn’t. . It’s true to myself. I knew it wasn’t the place for me because it got in the way of doing great things for me.”

Virginie Douin, a former Amazon advertising executive who worked with Aubrey, said, “She can be transparent, but she doesn’t care what people think. From 2014 to 2021.

Douin encouraged Aubrey to always ask her employees for promotions, raises, and new projects, and even if the answer was no, she said that during Amazon’s promotion process, a manager would identify a candidate as a woman, but negatively if it were a man. A backbone that can be interpreted positively.

Douin recalled that Aubrey once said that women should not tolerate unsupported managers.

“As a woman, I sympathized,” Douin said. “That’s a bad word, but that’s Colin.”

Aubrey explained that fighting language bias at Amazon was essential for her. “I have an opportunity to call this out and pay attention to the way language shapes our behavior and affects people, especially underrepresented groups,” she said. “It’s easy for me to do, and I’m happy to do it. I use my voice and speak up whenever I see something I think is worth a change.”

Behind the scenes operator

Aubrey spent most of his career at Amazon working behind the scenes developing advertising products, and had very little contact with advertisers. She has been described as a builder who follows Amazon Playbooks testing everything to see what sticks, and she is known for quickly skimming through Amazon’s infamous lengthy presentations and documents.

Mark Mannino said, “At Amazon, we have people who can look at 20-50 pages of metrics and pinpoint where the problem is in our business.

Over the years, Aubrey’s team has created a steady stream of new features and products, such as a tool called Stores that brands use to create virtual stores and analytics tools, a tool the sales team has been busy catching up with.

Regarding the speed of product development, Aubrey said of the speed of product development, “When decisions are made by the people closest to the customer, everything goes fast, and most decisions are two-way.”

She worked on Amazon’s first advertising product, called Product Advertising, in the early 2010s. Her advertisers have often used it to drive her traffic to their site to promote products not sold on Amazon, such as her washing machine. In his 2021 book “Amazon Unbound,” Brad Stone pushed Amazon’s retail team at the time, claiming that advertising undermined efforts to drive traffic to Amazon’s website.

Amazon stopped advertising its products in 2015 because advertisers started solving the problem of products being found on Amazon by starting to link their sites to Amazon pages.

“The sellers told us very effectively that we were focusing on the wrong problem,” Aubrey said. “It took us on the path to creating sponsored products.”

Her most important work was to build Amazon’s search advertising product, starting around 2015 with a sponsored product that has become a very popular way for advertisers to target people based on search terms since around 2015. Google and others eventually developed similar search-based advertising.

Nii Ahene, chief strategy officer at advertising agency Tinuiti, said Amazon’s approach to search advertising is important. Because Google and Facebook favor big brands while Amazon is lesser-known and allows smaller brands to compete with these giants.

Ahene said, “It shows the insights that Amazon was able to bring to organizations to transform what was later thought into a very powerful part of today’s business.”

“This has created a new industry that continues to grow rapidly around retail media,” Aubrey said. “It’s an achievement that I’m excited to be able to contribute.”

Aubrey has also developed Amazon’s Partner Network program to connect ad tech companies and ad agencies with advertisers. Instead of favoring large advertising holdings such as WPP and Publicis Groupe, Aubrey has rolled out the program to hundreds of companies, many of whom are e-commerce experts, fueling Amazon’s advertising business.

“It should work for the ‘starter’ for a highly sophisticated and well-known brand,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense to build two separate feature sets.”

As Amazon’s advertising business expands, Aubrey’s revenue is growing.

Amazon is growing beyond search advertising and is working hard to free up more advertising budgets.

A Cowen survey found that in 2021, 35% of advertisers’ Amazon budgets will be spent on the most popular search ad formats, while 27% will be spent on video ads and 18% on ads running outside of Amazon properties.

As the business grew, so did Aubrey’s responsibilities. She is now focused on growing ad-tech, streaming video and measurement products. She also oversees Amazon products used by hundreds of third-party adtech companies and agencies to manage campaigns for advertisers. She sees an opportunity for Amazon to add contextual ad targeting products.

She hopes to apply the same impact to digital advertising as it does in retail media with new products that help marketers buy, sell, and measure digital advertising.

“In five to ten years, we will be able to look back at this period and hopefully I can say that I have been able to contribute to another evolution of the industry,” she told Insider.

Clearly, Amazon faces new competition from Roku, YouTube and established players like NBCUniversal and Disney. year.

Amazon says it can track brand effectiveness and awareness, but many large advertisers still need confidence that their ads can drive soft metrics like awareness and loyalty.

Meanwhile, Aubrey still has to satisfy Amazon’s performance advertisers. Over the past year, prices have skyrocketed as sellers, Amazon’s core advertiser, have purchased more search ads from Amazon. According to e-commerce company Pacvue, advertising prices for sponsored products on Amazon rose 9.6% in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same period last year. In the third quarter of last year, it increased by 13% compared to the same period last year. Aubrey said Amazon has launched a new tool to help performance advertisers track their ad spend and find new customers.

Balancing advertising growth with the customer experience that Amazon has been known to protect will also be a challenge. According to data from e-commerce company Profitero, the average number of ads on the first page of Amazon search results rose from 8.7 in 2020 to 9.3 in 2022.

“You can’t fully convert every position into a sponsored placement,” said Himanshu Jain, vice president of product management and partnerships at CommerceIQ, an e-commerce advertising technology company. “Amazon is now making more money from search, as brands continue to compete with each other, which drives up advertising prices. But our inventory is fixed.”

But Aubrey is uniquely positioned to lead the next wave of Amazon advertising growth, said John Donahue, partner at ad consulting firm Up and the Right.

“She’s a good person to sit on because she was born and raised there,” he said.

Lara O’Reilly contributed to the report.

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