AOL breaks first Chiat ads

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America Online on Tuesday launches a major branding campaign created by new agency of record TBWA Chiat/Day, New York. The campaign, featuring 20 quirky 15-second spots starring such celebrities as Jack Lalanne, Adam West, Emmanuel Lewis, Anna Nicole Smith and others, touts what can only be described as the unusual side of AOL.

One spot, called ``Paw,'' shows an older man sitting at a computer. After finding he's chatting with a supporter of NAFTA, he smiles, and the camera shifts to focus on a little girl sitting on a couch. An explosion is heard, and the little girl exclaims: ``Ma, Paw done shot up the America Online again!'' The spot ends with the tagline ``America Online. Welcome,'' a play on the familiar computer-generated voice that greets subscribers each time they sign on.

Another spot shows a monkey's paw clicking the computer mouse to sign on to AOL. The camera pans back and the monkey is revealed as a balding man with glasses, who comments to the camera: ``That would have been even easier without the monkey glove.''

``We wanted to tell the entire story succinctly,'' said Ted Leonsis, president of AOL Services Co. ``Chiat/Day understood this was our members' service.''

The spots will break on 11:00 (ET) newscasts on Tuesday. They also will run on broadcast, cable and spot TV.

AOL's effort comes just a week after competitor Prodigy started its own branding campaign. CompuServe, meanwhile, is due to enter the fray next month in what may be the most competitive fall ever for the commercial online industry.

Separately, AOL on Monday said it would launch a local affiliate program dubbed Digital City. The first such ``city,'' Washington, aggregates content from local TV and radio stations, Washingtonian magazine and other AOL areas related to Washington.

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