Corporate Branding: AOL taps Wieden for $100M task

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AOL Time Warner's America Online has tapped Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., to handle its estimated $100 million corporate brand advertising account after a nearly five-month battle for the business.

The independent shop known for its award-winning work on the Nike account, was told late June 6 that it had prevailed over Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide and DDB Worldwide, both New York, according to executives close to the matter. Its task will be to refashion AOL's image for the broadband age. Wieden has category experience having worked on Microsoft Corp.'s MSN in 1995.

BBDO, which handles advertising for AOL's broadband service and related entertainment products, won additional duties: It will create advertising to launch AOL 9.0, along with premium services when the latest version of the service launches in October. AOL 9.0 was originally believed to be part of the corporate advertising assignment. It was unclear at press time what the assignment means in additional billings for BBDO.

Executives present during the final presentations included: Jonathan Miller, AOL's chairman-CEO; Ted Leonsis, vice chairman of AOL and president of AOL Core Service; Lisa Hook, president of AOL Broadband, premium and platform services; Joe Redling, AOL's chief marketing officer; and Len Short, exec VP-brand marketing. Mr. Short led the review. He recently told Advertising Age that AOL spent $40 million on broadband advertising from January to May, and he puts broadband spending for the balance of the year in the $40 million to $60 million range.

AOL is racing to reinvent itself as a hub for community, communication and content, rather than simply an Internet access provider. AOL 9.0 is expected to offer an array of new broadband-enabled features, special content and premium services. Mr. Short has said AOL needs to show it plays a role in helping people navigate their lives through wireless alerts, interactive polls or real-time chat.

The agency selection caps a grueling process and comes as AOL feverishly tries to move its dial-up Internet customers to broadband service. The cash-cow dial-up business is eroding faster than the company expected, according to Wayne Pace, AOL Time Warner's chief financial officer, who briefed analysts last week at the Deutsche Bank media conference. Mr. Pace said company has lost more than 1 million dial-up customers since its subscriber numbers began sliding late last year. AOL has about 26 million customers in the U.S. and a $23.90-per-month subscription fee; a broadband add-on is $9.95 a month. AOL is expected to introduce new pricing and a score of premium services by this fall.

two-horse race

The review was a two-horse race between BBDO and Wieden up until three weeks ago when AOL put DDB back into the mix. The move was instigated by Mr. Short, who had previously worked with Lee Garfinkel, DDB's chairman-chief creative officer. Mr. Garfinkel joined DDB in March from the now-defunct D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York. Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media, New York, handles AOL's media buying and planning account.

A spokesman for BBDO said no one was available to comment; a DDB spokeswoman could not be reached; and a Wieden representative did not return calls by press time. AOL executives were unavailable for comment.

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