Three Agencies Chase Corporate Branding Assignment

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NEW YORK ( -- The three advertising agencies competing for America Online's corporate brand assignment will make their presentations June 5 and 6, and a decision could come as soon as June 6, said the executive leading the review.

Len Short, executive vice president of brand marketing for AOL, said Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, New York, will pitch on June 5, while sibling DDB Worldwide, New York, and independent Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., are both scheduled for June 6. He said the account is worth $100 million in pure media dollars. Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media, New York, handles AOL's media buying and planning account.

Execs to hear presentations
Mr. Short said Jonathan Miller,

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AOL's chairman-CEO; Ted Leonsis, vice chairman of AOL and president of AOL Core Service; Lisa Hook, president of AOL Broadband, premium and platform services; and Joe Redling, AOL's chief marketing officer, will hear the final presentations. America Online is part of AOL Time Warner.

DDB, part of the original group of agencies that pitched for the corporate assignment, was added back into the mix May 22. Mr. Short, who had worked before with Lee Garfinkel, DDB's chief creative officer, said he wanted to give the agency another chance and that Messrs. Miller and Leonsis enjoyed the agency's original presentation.

The winning agency will face a tall order: AOL is struggling to keep its cash-cow dial-up business going while trying to switch subscribers to its broadband service, a segment where AOL is playing catch-up. AOL also is trying to reinvent itself as a content provider, rather than being thought of only as an access provider to the World Wide Web.

The $100 million marketing outlay also includes advertising for AOL 9.0, the latest version of the service, which launches this fall. Mr. Short said the winning agency will be responsible for integrating marketing about 9.0 into the overall brand campaign. AOL has normally used direct-to-consumer advertising to get consumers to subscribe to its service, so this overarching brand push is a departure for the company.

Complicated category
"This is a much more complicated product category given our situation and how we have to transform it," Mr. Short said, adding that for agencies, "it's different than walking into a car account pitch."

"If you think about this category, there is a continuum of access to content. ... We're not going to be an HBO, creating [original] content, but we need to put ourselves in the middle and above that continuum. We need to show that AOL plays a much bigger role in your everyday life. The cable company won't do that," he said.

Mr. Short said AOL needs to show it plays a big role in helping people navigate their lives through wireless alerts, interactive polls or real-time chat.

Broadband campaign
AOL has been working with BBDO since January on its broadband advertising campaign and has spent $40 million in media on the push from January to May, Mr. Short said. He said that spending on broadband advertising for the remainder of 2003 is likely to be in the $40 million to $60 million range.

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