Garfield's AdReview: AOL can't break from the pack by running latest BBDO spots

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Here's AOL's biggest problem: You can't send out a CD-ROM of broadband. You need to send somebody out to hook it up-which means you need for the customer to take some action and go to some expense. Which means that the almost passive, free-trial direct marketing AOL has been using for a decade is suddenly close to useless.

Which means the world's largest Internet service provider is, basically, just another player-like the phone company, or the cable company or anyone else who wants your $50 or so a month. Which is almost everybody, including sibling Time Warner Cable's Roadrunner service.

Which is one big reason AOL Time Warner's stock is so thoroughly in the tank.

Which is why they've turned to BBDO, New York, to come to the rescue. Which is why the new advertising looks the way it does, because AOL's first major campaign for the next big phase of the digital revolution begins with a pair of Pepsi commercials, minus only the Pepsi.

Is that Sharon Stone? Yes, that's her all right. Is that a parody of the lame `70s TV show? Yeah, for sure, that's a "Six Million Dollar Man" takeoff. All very jokey, all very cute. And all very, very BBDO. Throw in that chubby kid with the curls and you can take this reel straight to the bottlers.

In the Stone spot, she is in bed, apparently after coitus with Running Man. "That was the most amazing experience I ever had," she gasps. "So... can you stay? Or do you have to run?" Then we see the icon. The other spot looks like the TV show opening sequence, only it is Running Man, not Lee Majors, whom technology makes stronger and faster.

Neither spot explains why the "World Wide Wow" you get from AOL is better than the one you get from Earthlink or Roadrunner, or your Hank's Cable Shak. There's no mention, for instance, of access to exclusive material from various Time Warner entertainment properties. But there are many ads to follow, and, anyway, (changing junk-food metaphors for a moment) this isn't about the twisty bread; it's about the pizza. AOL's best hopes reside in two facts:

1) Broadband penetration is still quite low, and

2) AOL has 35 million customers. If a rising tide lifts all ships, presumably AOL will wind up with the biggest flotilla. Or, put another way, and getting back to the original metaphor, the notion is to tell people about the Joy of Cola, and let brand familiarity determine which cola gets the biggest share of subscribers.

It's not all that enviable a position, considering how expensive AOL for Broadband is versus some competitors (Earthlink's introductory rate is less than half of AOL's). But the America Online division's very future depends on getting a big chunk of this market in a very big hurry, lest it become the Atari of the Internet.

Which is why Running Man is running: for his life.

AOL

BBDO, New York

Ad Review Rating: 2.5 stars

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