9.0 launch: AOL enlists celebs for $80M push

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America Online hopes an $80 million celebrity-heavy ad campaign will help stanch a subscriber exodus and convince consumers of the benefits of AOL 9.0.

"For years AOL's been talking about features but we thought let's talk about how it impacts your life," said Jimmy Siegel, vice chairman and senior executive-creative director, BBDO Worldwide, New York, AOL's agency for 9.0.

A series of 15 TV spots-four of which break the week of Aug. 18-illustrate specific 9.0 features at work in people's lives. Model Elle McPherson, MTV's Carson Daly and singer Sting are among the celebrities who appear in the spots. Print ads hit newspapers Aug. 18, while eight-page magazine inserts bound with 9.0 disks appear in December magazines.

AOL's media buying and planning firm, Initiative Media, New York, has planned a slew of integrated mentions on shows like Fox's "The O.C." with links to series' soundtracks, videos and behind-the-scenes content. The Omnicom Group shop came up with the "Life Needs" tagline by researching what people expressed was important in their lives (AA, Aug. 4).

In "Cry Baby," speedy downloads are featured as a harried father tries to comfort his crying baby. Dad downloads a lullaby, a cartoon, a picture of a toy train and then resorts to downloading a video from Time Inc.'s Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition of Ms. McPherson. Father and son are mesmerized and the baby stops crying. Ms. McPherson then walks in and says: "Hi, Mommy's home, everything OK?" The spot closes with the AOL running man icon and the tagline: "Life needs quick thinking."

Another spot, "Kid," illustrates PC Check-up, where AOL will check a PC for the 15 most common problems and self-correct them. The spot depicts an 11-year-old boy zoned out watching faux reality shows. Voiceover: "When your computer's not working, neither is your kid's brain."

"We want people to think that giving up AOL is the last thing in the world they want to do. We want to stop people from leaving AOL," Mr. Siegel said.

big losses

AOL, a unit of AOL Time Warner, has 25 million subscribers in the U.S. the majority of whom are dial-up customers that it would like to migrate to broadband. In a July 17 report, Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen pegged 2003 subscriber losses at 1.1 million, 253,000 more than a previous estimate. Ms. Cohen projects a loss of 748,000 subscribers in 2004.

Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., selected by AOL to spearhead corporate-brand advertising, is preparing five or six TV spots with a new tagline to air in early January and then air three spots during the Super Bowl.

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