Last Dance for Aol?

December 12th, 2012

This past winter, the latest step in Aol’s ongoing rebranding effort hit a snag with the delay of a new advertising campaign. The first commercial, which had been slated to launch on Monday Night Football, was to include dancers hand-picked by CEO Tim Armstrong, along with a Jonah Hill voiceover. Why the delay? Per Armstrong, the commercial “wasn’t great.” Sorry, Jonah.


Rebranding is always difficult, and even more so for the company synonymous with the “You’ve Got Mail” message and the days of dial-up Internet. The company has been on a ride since then, going through a disastrous merger with Time Warner in 2000, before being spun off just nine years later.


After the spin-off, the “America Online” name was shortened to “AOL”, then stylized as “Aol.” The company reorganized in Summer 2012 and now consists of three segments: AOL Membership, “Brand Group” (which includes subsidiary brands such as Huffington Post, acquired in early 2011), and AOL Networks (its advertising company).

Aol continues to attach the “AOL” brand to its core businesses. In February, for example, the company rebranded the Advertising.com group––a known brand in the online advertising space––as “AOL Networks.”


Stamping the Aol name on everything might be putting the cart before the horse, however; the brand means little if the target audience still hears “You’ve Got Mail.” While the advertising campaign might have been lacking, there is a good reason to come up with a public campaign of some kind: Aol needs to change the brand perception in the client community.


Aol houses not only membership services, but also news websites, a full-service advertising platform (video production, placement, etc.), and local content (e.g. MapQuest). The critical question is: how many of these things do consumers associate with the brand? Engaging in this process of discovery can help Aol target its much-needed campaign.

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