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By Published on .

Prodigy Communications seeks to raise its subscriber base with an ad campaign that begins today.

Although Prodigy was once one of the leading Internet service providers in the U.S., it has been surpassed by America Online and others in market share during the past few years. Prodigy only recently passed the 1 million membership mark; AOL currently services 18 million subscribers.

The ad campaign, from TBWA/Chiat/Day, New York, aims to unleash Prodigy's potential by poking fun at untapped promise in others. The debut TV ads feature celebrities who have obviously made a wrong career choice.

In one spot, singing prodigy Aretha Franklin is portrayed as a nurse who uses her accomplished vocal chords to page doctors. In another, basketball great Larry Bird's ball-handling skills are sidelined as he works in a hardware store.


The new theme line: "Everyone has a potential. Have you realized yours? Are you a Prodigy?"

The TV spots will run on network, cable and syndicated programming. Outdoor ads will appear in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and White Plains, N.Y.

Prodigy spent only $5.3 million in advertising in 1998, according to Competitive Media Reporting, but this new effort is expected to get triple that budget.

David Page, chief creative officer at the agency, summed up the branding strategy as "Prodigy can help you tap into the potential of the Internet."

The campaign comes as the service tries to regain its footing. Some 28.4 million new users visited AOL's free Web site in September, vs. Prodigy's 2.1 million, according to Media Metrix.

Margo Bartsch, Prodigy VP-advertising and marketing communications, said the new campaign will help boost Prodigy's brand recognition.

"We did a national campaign this January that coincided with our IPO," Ms. Bartsch said, but it was more of a direct-response effort than brand-building.

"This upcoming brand campaign puts a face to Prodigy," she added.


At its peak in the late 1980s and early '90s, Prodigy had 2.5 million subscribers. And after slipping badly due to management missteps, the company has begun to regain its momentum.

"They added 62% to their customer base in the last six months," said Gary Arlen, president of research consultancy Arlen Communications, noting that Prodigy has inked deals with Amazon.com, DLJDirect, Excite@Home, MSNBC and others for site

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