After 'AOL': Time Warner taps branding agency

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AOL Time Warner has hired Lippincott Mercer, New York to rework its logo and positioning-minus AOL-as the world's biggest media company moves to erase from its name the evidence of its much-criticized $112 billion merger with America Online in 2001.

As expected, AOL Time Warner's board of directors Sept. 18 approved a plan to lop off AOL from the company's name, a confirmation that the Internet unit will be just that, a unit within the media giant, but not its driving force.

The corporate logo will change and the stock ticker symbol will revert to "TWX," Time Warner's pre-merger symbol.

Executives from the media company had discussions with Lippincott, as well as Siegelgale and WPP Group's Landor Associates, both New York, in the days leading up to the board's vote, but there was no formal request for proposal process, according to Ed Adler, AOL Time Warner senior VP-corporate communications, who is leading the brand process.

Landor handled corporate-identity issues for the merger of America Online and Time Warner in 2001. Whether to drop AOL from the corporate name had been in discussions for months, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Lippincott executives were set to meet with AOL Time Warner executives Sept. 19 to map out an initial plan for the repositioning. Mr. Adler said the company will look at variations on the Time Warner name, as well as design alternatives in the coming weeks. The new logo will likely involve a different color, texture and typeface.

freshening

"It won't be a radical rebranding of the company," said one insider. "It'll freshen the old Time Warner logo to signal it's a new company ... different than it was when it was the old Time Warner," the person said.

It will be several weeks before a new logo appears on stationery, business cards, shareholder and investor materials and on building signs.

The ticker symbol won't change until documents are filed and processed by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The new logo will christen the corporation's massive new headquarters under construction in New York. An ad campaign is not expected in the near term.

The widely anticipated move to change the company's name was flagged more than a month ago by America Online CEO Jonathan Miller who, in a memo to employees, said he approached AOL Time Warner Chairman-CEO Richard Parsons with a formal request to remove AOL from the media company's name in order to shore up the battered AOL consumer brand.

ending confusion

After the vote, Mr. Parsons said in a statement: "We believe that our new name better reflects the portfolio of our valuable businesses and ends any confusion between our corporate name and the America Online brand name for our investors, partners and the public."

Mr. Parsons and other top executives hope the decision will dispel the negative speculation that has surrounded the parent company since the SEC launched an investigation of America Online's accounting practices.

"They don't want to make a deal of this. ... They want to keep this as much a non-event as possible because there's no good way to spin the story. And they don't go to market as a corporate brand. They'd like to move on," said one brand consultant.

Other consultants view the change as evolutionary.

"It's not an uncommon thing for an enterprise that is created by a merger, and that adopts a bridge name, to clarify its strategy and focus as it goes forward," said David Martin, president, Interbrand North America.

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