AOL's ad message now turns to dealing with its problems

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America Online bowed to pressure from dozens of state attorneys general last week, announcing plans to give refunds to disgruntled consumers nationwide, further curtail its TV advertising and improve customer service.

The online service began running a "message to members" page ad in national newspapers Jan. 31, telling about measures it's taking to address widely reported access problems.

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AOL faced six state lawsuits and was the target of a 20-state summit concerning its inability to deliver the product it began marketing during the fourth quarter of 1996: unlimited online service for a flat $19.95 monthly fee.

REFUNDS OF UP TO 100%

AOL subscribers who contact the service in the next four months are eligible for refunds of 100% if the consumer could only spend less than 2 hours online; 50% for 2 to 8 hours online; or 25% for 8 to 15 hours online. They can also opt for a free month of service.

An AOL spokeswoman said the service would pull all direct-response TV ads as of Jan. 31. Those spots advertised 50 free hours of service to new consumers.

CompuServe isn't planning to increase its TV efforts, said Scott Kauffman, VP-interactive services. Prodigy has yet to finalize talks with Weiss, Whitten, Stagliano, New York, about adding TV to its current campaign.

Though they call the timing coincidental, Microsoft Corp.'s Microsoft Network began new direct-response spots from Grey Direct, Seattle, on major cable networks last month and AT&T Corp. also began airing new spots for WorldNet from Wunderman Cato Johnson and Y&R Advertising last week.

Copyright February 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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