AOL consolidates Net biz at Atmosphere

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America Online has named AtmosphereBBDO the interactive agency of record for the launch of AOL 9.0, effectively consolidating its estimated $80 million online advertising account at the shop.

By selecting Atmosphere, the interactive arm of BBDO Worldwide, New York, the Internet giant further expands its ties with Omnicom Group, having selected BBDO in March as its agency of record for broadband and for AOL 9.0's offline advertising.

While BBDO will likely conclude 2003 with considerably more than $100 million in billings derived from AOL business, the precise value of the interactive assignment is murky. It's expected the majority of the media billings, between $70 million and $80 million-will be spent on AOL Time Warner properties. The media is often tied to network impressions, content and overall sponsorship deals AOL has with events like the NFL and Nascar.

The decision by the AOL Time Warner unit to tap Atmosphere-BBDO was driven by its desire for tighter integration between offline and online. Well-honed integration has never been more needed as AOL prepares to launch 9.0 in a high-stakes battle for broadband consumers. It also comes as AOL attempts to segue from channel and promotion-based marketing into more of a product marketing organization, according to Len Short, AOL exec VP-brand marketing.

BBDO has prepared at least 15 TV spots to support the 9.0 launch, the first of which breaks Aug. 15 around a multifaceted concert tour sponsorship on AOL Music. The official TV kickoff happens Aug. 18. Other 30-second spots humorously illustrate 9.0 features such as Super Buddies, Web Accelerator (for faster downloads), video instant messaging, calendars, alerts and music share. Mr. Short has said previously that AOL needs to become more of a lifestyle brand.

Separately, Mr. Short said independent Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., which was selected last month to handle the company's corporate brand advertising, is working on TV spots that will roll out by Jan. 1, 2004. Wieden will create a minimum of three TV spots to air during the Super Bowl. Offline media buying and planning is handled by Initiative Media, New York; the Super Bowl plan was only partially secured during the broadcast upfronts and details remain to be worked out. Mr. Short said AtmosphereBBDO will most likely handle online advertising related to the corporate campaign by Wieden.

buying, planning

Atmosphere collaborated with the BBDO team right from the start, originating the idea of bringing the AOL running-man icon to life. "They were part of the original pitch [for the account late last year] and made a big impression during that whole process," Mr. Short said.

BBDO sought to make offline and online integration a hallmark of its work for clients Cingular Wireless, General Electric Co. and Pepsi-Co.'s Frito-Lay. "The power of the online idea is to take the essence of the idea in general and express it in more digitally-centric ways," said Bill Katz, president-CEO, BBDO Worldwide, New York.

AtmosphereBBDO appears to have struck the right formula. The agency scooped four high-profile industry awards this year: The One Club's Gold Pencil for the GE "Pen" campaign; a Silver Lion from the Cannes International Advertising Festival, also for GE; a Silver Effie with BBDO from the American Marketing Association for the GE 4D Ultrasound campaign; and an Andy Award of Distinction from the Advertising Club of New York for a Cingular prepaid campaign.

"The exciting thing is that since this is inherently the world's premiere interactive-services company, it's more important to find ways not just to talk about this brand, but to demonstrate it ... so that you're just one click away from the proof," said Andreas Combuechen, chief creative officer and managing director AtmosphereBBDO.

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