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AOL Finally Catches Up

More shocking than Eminem’s win as best song last night at the Oscars was the new ads for AOL. I think this is the first time I post anything about advertising, mainly because I don’t like it. Here is why I think this is noteworthy: AOL is finally delivering a message. A brand message worth listening to. Before that, it was all those family-friendly ads with the stupid “You’ve got mail” tagline and no effort to say anything at all. Last night’s ads, by BBDO New York, finally established AOL as what it is, a multi-million dollar company that boasts more than 30 million subscribers.

In the process they figured out that the pyramid logo is ugly or, more probable, that it has enough brand equity that it can act in the background and can be used as a secondary element, playing sidekick to the little running man. The first ad, which was the better one, positioned AOL as a resurgent brand with more strength, ability and charisma with a small nod to the The Six Million Dollar Man. The second one, well… it had Sharon Stone looking all satisfied in bed after the running man did his thing. Pretty risqué for AOL.

Like I said, I’m not a big fan of advertising or AOL, but these ads finally give a voice to a numb brand.

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ARCHIVE ID 1402 FILED UNDER Miscellaneous
PUBLISHED ON Mar.24.2003 BY Armin
Sam’s comment is:


On Mar.24.2003 at 10:24 AM
Michael S’s comment is:

Is this a trend? www.threedegrees.com isn't your typical microsoft site either - though I have no idea if it will fly with the intended audience

On Mar.24.2003 at 12:07 PM
Damien’s comment is:

Okay - I am largely being contrary to cause a discussion, and therefore disagree with Armin (but wholeheartedly with where Sam was going with his images).

I think that 'yes' AOL has changed its advertising with this new campaign - but does it give it a voice? I'm not convinced. Will it give it a voice? I'm still not convinced - and what voice does AOL now have?

I personally preferred AOL's previous advertising messaging. It always ran as, "Fast, Easy and Smart-or something" and made me smile that it was similar to toilet paper advertising in how AOL voiced feature benefits of its service and showed happy families feeling smart, and using something that was fast and easy.

I seem to remember that there were other adverts, perhaps I'm getting confused with those in the UK, that featured scenarios where one didn't mind a kid using AOL. You didn't have to protect your kid on AOL.

However - I still think their 150m USD advertising campaign with BBDO will still feature the old style ads. Mainly because the old style ads, that were running last week are selling their product, AOL eight point oh. The new advertising features a new type of AOL service/product that is possibly spearate from that.

If you go to their homepage - you'll see how AOL are handling the two. And even get to view the Six Million Dollar Man commercial.

And yes - they've also chosen to build some personality around the icon. Stuff we Mac user's have been seeing for some time now with the annoying icon-man being present in our iChat apps and when AOL bought netscape and bundled the AOL messenger thing with it. So this is the major breakthrough for AOL. Building a brand around their icon

But why do you suppose they are doing this? Possibly because their triangle looks like the 'all-seeing-eye' on top of the pyramid as Sam illustrates - or is it because Microsoft started that race?

MSN started to bring personality to their butterfly icon a while ago - by putting a damn person inside a butterfly outfit to show in specific terms, how the MSN network can be protective and so on.

Both providers have 'eight' versions of their software out and so I think AOL's move was one of necessity rather than strategic planning.

I thought the Sharon Stone commercial was possibly off-brand in that this is the same woman that proved she was a blond on screen (hence why the ad features her in bed I guess) and AOL is meant to be for the whole family. Or is it, as Armin suggests, AOL reaching puberty and suggesting that the 30m customers it already has are mainly family and now its going after a new target audience?

The six million dollar man adverts work to easily communicate the same type of messages they used to run in previous advertsising. So I figure that they might work better in terms of actually saying something relevant, whereas Stone's commercial would be memorable for featuring her.

One touch I did like, was that AOL/BBDO left their triangle icon as a fuzzy gif-like icon looking like it does on-screen. An obvious contrast between the two marks on the same screen.

So to recap - for me alone, I 'personally' think that AOL's new advertising misses the mark. They could have teken a risk in really starting a campaign that would build a brand personality around their new featured mark - but instead made one risky ad with Sharon Stone that features messaging around an 'experience'. And the other is the safe one in case you didn't get the former one.

Its hard to run advertising around the 'experience' it might give you unless you have a very specific target audience who will understand some of the assumptions and metaphors you have to use in the 30 second segment. I don't know if anyone remembers the volkswagen commercial where an open top vehicle, with four people in it, is featured driving on a dark road at night. After some time they arrive at a party and without speaking decide to give the part a miss.I know I am contrasting completely different things here - but I think that in order to leverage the 'experience' brand message - you have to set the stage a little better than AOL did. Oh wait - I just got it... you can get decent porn on AOL?

Being satisfied using AOL... I would have really liked to have seen the other concepts that BBDO probably did.

But yes - AOL is perhaps now trying to ditch the 'AOL' of their messaging and focus on building personality. Which I think will require many more campaigns and better targetted messaging. But they might be doing a Pepsi/Coke thing - using movie stars to promote their services. If so - then the both of them (Microsoft and AOL) are going to have to take different positions, so that the general public can understand what they're saying.

(does anyone actually read all of this?)

On Mar.24.2003 at 12:58 PM
armin’s comment is:

>does anyone actually read all of this?

Read what? : )

I need to gather my strength to respond. Be back later.

On Mar.24.2003 at 01:37 PM
JESSE’s comment is:

Sorry, this is slightly off-topic, but the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System recently redesigned their print materials and logo. It would be interesting to know if the similarity to AOL's logo was a conscious effort or not. To me, it's a pretty blatant rip-off.

On Mar.24.2003 at 02:19 PM
armin’s comment is:

>Ohio Public Employees Retirement System.

First of all the logo doesn't say "Retirement" to me at all. It looks more like a camera shop logo. But that's not the point right.?

> if the similarity to AOL's logo was a conscious effort or not.

I don't think it's a consciouss effort. It's like all the swoosh logos, they all look the same because there is no originilaty in any of them and represent a lack of any knowledge of graphic design. This would fall under the same category, where the logo has been created without any concept and is made to look as generic as any other fricking triangle shaped logo with a swirly inside, making it look like the AOL triangle. Then again, any logo that is a triangle and has any kind of shape knocked out inside it will be remisniscent of AOL, because it is seen everywhere.

Now, if it was a consciouss effort to copy the AOL logo they did a pretty lame job. They could have copied something else too. Something good.

On Mar.24.2003 at 02:31 PM
JESSE’s comment is:

> This would fall under the same category, where the logo has been created without any concept

Yeah, that's how I feel about it. Apparently no thought was put into this logo revision. The new materials feature fancy printing and die cuts, too. My retirement dollars are being spent well!

As for AOL's new campaign, it's definitely better, but I'm not buying into it (typing this using a RoadRunner cable connection ... ). There is a new local television ad airing here that showcases the benefits of high-speed RoadRunner internet service which uses nothing but Apple computers throughout, which, of course, they do not offer guaranteed support for.

On Mar.24.2003 at 02:53 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

AOL Time Warner still sucks.

On Mar.24.2003 at 04:57 PM
armin’s comment is:

At least now the look like a big player. And yes, they still suck. And wanna know something funny, I have never ever used AOL, or seen it or been close to it. And I call myself a web designer. Wait... I don't.

On Mar.24.2003 at 05:07 PM
JD’s comment is:

>does anyone actually read all of this?

Only when I remember to take my Ritalin! ;-)

On Mar.24.2003 at 05:54 PM
pk’s comment is:

did damien ever make a point? i got too tired pingponging from paragraph to paragraph to try and find one.

On Mar.24.2003 at 05:55 PM
Damien’s comment is:

yeah - it could be summed up as Darrel says:

"AOL Time Warner still sucks."

Or AOL's new campaign misses the mark, doesn't give any real voice and simply takes on Microsoft in terms of its new positioning.

On Mar.24.2003 at 06:11 PM
pk’s comment is:

got it. thanks.

On Mar.24.2003 at 11:57 PM
Mike Clifford’s comment is:

I don't like triangles, not that they can't be used effectively, but they are often used ineffectively. Just like yellow text, ugh!

I can't believe how often that irks me. I'll be looking at local firms print work and enjoying some of it, until I see bright yellow text on a dark background. It looks so much like an infomercial.

Sorry, I had to get that out, for some reason it just bothers me alot.

On Mar.25.2003 at 11:27 AM
Justin’s comment is:

To me, it really says something when companies use sex appeal in their ads; I can't stand this. That is my yellow text. Herbal Essence and AOL should get together and COME UP WITH SOMETHING ORIGINIAL. Everyone involved should be fired for being an accomplice to really bad creative direction.

On Mar.25.2003 at 02:08 PM
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

Via Gawker:

Base Instincts

I like how the author shreads AOL but has an AOL email address. Classic.

On Mar.31.2003 at 04:34 PM
vjay’s comment is:

this is to much to read

On Jul.24.2003 at 11:55 PM
Armin’s comment is:

AOL is now cool or Hell finally froze over

iPod looks good on you buddy.

On Dec.18.2003 at 01:58 PM
jonsel’s comment is:

Of course AOL is cool. Why else would Snoop be in their tv ads? Seriously, I think he needs to start pickup UP the j again and staying away from the ao-hell.

Is nobody helping them with their branding and advertsing? What exactly is 9.0 Optimized all about? You mean all the other versions weren't optimized? That explains a lot. Plus, haven't they figured out that numbering versions is out now? I think they were closer with their Running Man ads (except for that creepy Sharon Stone one).

On Dec.18.2003 at 02:38 PM
Crazy John Tennerman’s comment is:

I think that AOL's logo looks like the all-seeing-eye at the top of the pyramid on the back of the one dollar bill.


AOL does suck!

On Sep.20.2004 at 08:41 PM