AOL competitors gear up ads

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Prodigy, Microsoft Corp., AT&T Corp. and CompuServe all plan to break new ads for their online services in the coming weeks. All the ads will talk about reliability and easy access. Is it a coincidence that the ads are coming at a time when America Online faces a crisis of service outages and lawsuits? Nah.

"We felt, given all the press about people unable to get through to conduct business, that this was a great opportunity from a timing standpoint, really from an event marketing standpoint," said Nancy Kramer, president-CEO of Resource Marketing, Columbus, Ohio, CompuServe's agency.

Prodigy, was in talks with agency Weiss, Whitten, Stagliano, New York, about adding TV spots to its current print, outdoor, and radio campaign which launched in October. One Prodigy executive close to agency talks said that while client and agency were already discussing the next wave of the 1996-97 campaign, in light of the recent news about access difficulties "we've stepped up those conversations."

While Prodigy TV ads would not point at AOL or make accessibility the creative's single focus, the spots would "certainly touch upon Prodigy's accessibility and ease-of-use," the executive said.

Late next week AT&T Corp. will break new TV and print advertising for its WorldNet Internet access service. The campaign from Young & Rubicam, New York, will focus on the AT&T network's technical reliability. A spokesman at the company said it's "purely coincidental" that the new ads are breaking on the heels of AOL's many problems and insists the campaign has been in the works for "some time.'

Finally, Microsoft Corp.'s Microsoft Network this week began running 60-second direct-response spots from Grey Direct, Seattle, on national cable and is diverting some marketing money into ads in cities where MSN has excess modem access capacity. But MSN executives said they are not changing marketing in reaction to America Online's woes and won't do anti-AOL ads.

Copyright January 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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