CompuServe and Prodigy are taking advantage of America Online's current woes by trying to steal members from their category-leading rival.
CompuServe was set to air a 30-second spot in Super Bowl pre-game programming on Fox that plays off AOL's service problems. Print ads, which note, "Busy people don't have time for busy signals," are set to break today, according to Scott Kauffman, VP-interactive services.
1/27/97 OPINION: AOL's descent into darkness
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"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 Resource Marketing President-CEO Nancy Kramer.
"Busy signal" is the only TV spot in a less-than-$10 million campaign. The campaign uses primarily newspapers and will lead into a CompuServe pitch to home office and small-office users. New ads from both Resource and DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago, break later this year.
PRODIGY TALKING TV
Meanwhile, Prodigy was in talks with Weiss, Whitten, Stagliano, New York, about adding TV to its current print, outdoor and radio campaign, launched in October.
One Prodigy executive close to agency talks said that although the client and agency were already discussing the next wave of the current campaign, "we've stepped up those conversations" in light of recent events.
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 accesssibility and ease-of-use," the executive said.
AOL's problems stem from its network capacity and the extent to which its new $19.95 monthly flat-fee rate was responsible for consumers being unable to access the service.
These woes have led six states to sue AOL, and a seventh, New York, last week took its first steps toward a possible suit.
But at a Jan. 23 meeting, 20 state attorneys general discussed an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance with AOL. An AVC is a legal document often drawn up to pre-empt lawsuits if a company agrees to address issues set forth by another party.
AOL STILL ADVERTISING
Also called into question by the state attorneys general was the service's continued advertising.
On Jan. 16 AOL said it would pull image ads from TBWA Chiat/Day, New York, using theme music from "The Jetsons." But direct-response ads offering 50 free hours of service to new subscribers had not been discontinued as of late last week. Those spots were created in-house.
"We're not going to stop all of our marketing," an AOL spokeswoman said. "We're not turning anyone away or cutting people off. It wouldn't make good business sense."
Contributing: Laura Petrecca.
Copyright January 1997, Crain Communications Inc.