No sooner do the desperate proprietors of AOL release a commercial adding chrome rims and a wicked spoiler to the plodding Plymouth Reliant that is their dial-up service than along comes the low-price competition to use that very commercial against them.
Surely by now you've seen the spot called "Manifesto," in which a smart mom named Kimberly crashes an AOL meeting, clambers onto the conference table and begins demanding an improved Internet. For instance, she wants spam- and virus-protection software built in, so she doesn't have to buy or install anything herself. How surprised she is when the top AOL exec in the room tells her "You've got it."
As observed in this space three weeks ago, it's a very impressive commercial, cleverly papering over the twin gaping holes in AOL's business model:
AOL is an ISP that cannot install, or compete against, the broadband service that soon will be standard in every home in America.
In the meantime, it can't compete on price with the no-frills ISPs that sell dial-up service, minus the proprietary AOL content, for a fraction of AOL's monthly fee.
It is this second business reality seized upon by NetZero, one of the dial-up discounters, in a zinger of a spot from Bernstein-Rein, Kansas City, Mo. The agency found a Kimberly lookalike and painstakingly copycatted every detail of "Manifesto," to the point that if you're not paying attention you think that AOL commercial is on again.
"Excuse me," fake Kimberly says, in a familiarly high-pitched voice, familiarly picking up confidence and momentum as she proceeds. "I want a better Internet, with unlimited access and spam and virus protection, and without me having to do anything."
Sure enough, the AOL executive replies, disarmingly, "You got it."
"OK!" she says. But this time she doesn't add, "Keep up the good work!" This time she says, "And I want it all for $9.95 a month"-prompting a second AOL exec to chime in: "Yeah, you'd have to go to NetZero for that."
Now here's an ISP to be contended with. That's ISP, as in "I'm So Plucky."
Low-price dial-ups, of course, are facing the same imminent obsolescence AOL is doomed by, so they have no time to waste. Lower cost structures are all well and good, but they have to rake in all the dial-up business they can while there's still business to rake. Lacking the time and resources to arm for the struggle, they've simply wrested away AOL's gun and fired a shot at the owner.
The risk is small. Maybe there will be some litigation, but that would be a publicity windfall for David, not Goliath. The larger problem is that the send-up is so dead-on, most viewers will, in fact, first think it's that AOL commercial. We're running out of colorful metaphors here, but let's say that's a direct deposit into the competition's account.
After an exposure or two, though, the joke is likely to register with a bang. AOL will have no choice but to ditch poor Kimberly, a ditch the pitiful Reliant will soon be broken down in, as well.
Bernstein-Rein, Kansas City, Mo.
Ad Review Rating: 3.5 stars