Note from the editor

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America Online's persistent, never wavering plan to build the ultimate Internet utility earn AOL the award as Advertising Age's 2000 i.Marketer of the Year.

Utility is fitting. We're aware that millions of customers stay with AOL either because they think it's great or because they don't get around to switching. Yet we're also struck by the number of people who seem to dislike AOL as much as the cable or phone company. (How convenient that AOL's purchase of Time Warner will give it the connection to deliver cable and phone service.)

AOL, to be clear, is hardly a new, new-media brand; AOL was building its case 15 years ago, before many dot-com CEOs had entered puberty.

For traditional marketers, winning on the Net isn't necessarily about being first. Online success comes to those that execute best, and those that know how to turn supposed liabilities into assets. The play today is not only innovation, it is great execution. In this special report, we look at five offline marketers that get the Net: Best Buy, Merrill Lynch, Nike, Southwest Airlines and Wal-Mart.

We chose these five not as marketers of the year, but as examples of powerful brands rebuilding around the Internet.

With the exception of Southwest, all four are latecomers that recognize how past missteps are irrelevant in a market where the online game is just beginning. Traditional marketers that get past their inferiority complex have every opportunity this year to squash dot-coms.

Southwest made the report because of the impressive lead in Web traffic it has over larger airline rivals -- and because of a smart redesign that turned a clunky site into a simple, clean winner.

Best Buy's new site hasn't launched yet, and Wal-Mart belatedly relaunched in January with an entirely underwhelming site. But they get the Net.

Best Buy is making the right moves by working hard to mesh online and

offline strategies, positioning itself wherever its customers want to shop.

Wal-Mart, meanwhile, made the right decision in January to partner on a new site with a Silicon Valley venture capital firm. Wal-Mart soon will be positioned to be the Wal-Mart of the Web -- maybe around the time money runs out for floundering dot-com e-tailers.

Finally, this report reviews the emerging wireless market. There's not much of a market yet for ads or promotions delivered through wireless devices. But there sure will be.

A confession: I don't especially like most advertising -- and certainly dislike irrelevant pitches that waste my time. But if you want to heavily subsidize my wireless subscription and send me relevant, targeted promotions and information when and where I want them, then I'll listen. I don't think of that as advertising. I think of that as useful.

Wireless marketing is wide open. It is going to happen, and it's going to be good for you and me.

Bradley Johnson

Interactive Editor

brad@adage.com

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