Gotham readies new AOL ads

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After a three-month hiatus from its high-profile TV branding efforts, America Online will return to the airwaves next month with a new image campaign from Gotham, New York.

AOL pulled its so-called "Jetsons" TV campaign in January after the online service couldn't meet consumer demand following a change in its pricing policy.

The new advertising is expected to break during the first week of May.


Gotham joins TBWA Chiat/Day as agency for AOL's consumer advertising, and the fact Gotham is producing the "return" branding campaign is raising eyebrows in the industry.

One executive close to AOL said the company and TBWA could part ways by this summer, though other people suggest AOL is supplementing its roster with a new shop.

"Both Gotham and TBWA Chiat/Day will be working on brand creative for AOL in the next year," said an AOL Networks spokeswoman.

"We have not been fired," said a TBWA spokeswoman. " Everything stands as it has been before and we're still agency of record."

TBWA sources confirmed, however, that the agency has not been asked to conceptualize new creative for AOL since AOL had the agency pull its campaign featuring theme music from "The Jetsons." AOL pulled its internally created direct-response TV ads shortly thereafter.

Still unclear is what AOL will spend on advertising in 1997. Last year, the company spent $70.4 million in measured media, with more than half of that on cable TV, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

Earlier this year, Advertising Age reported that AOL was conducting talks within Interpublic Group of Cos. shops about the account (AA, March 10). Gotham is a subsidiary of The Lowe Group, an IPG holding.

"I have worked with the Interpublic agencies before, and now they're in the mix as well," said AOL Networks CEO Bob Pittman. "AOL has always used a number of agencies for our assignments."

McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, had handled work for Six Flags of America when Mr. Pittman was CEO there.


Sources familiar with the earlier talks said McCann could not take on AOL business because of potential conflicts stemming from agency client AT&T Corp.

The hiring of Gotham is the latest turn in what has been a roller-coaster year for AOL, the nation's biggest online service.

Its subscriber count has grown from 4.5 million at the end of 1995 to more than 8 million today. But a change in pricing policy last December overloaded the system's capacity, hindering users from connecting with the service and causing several states' attorneys general to pursue legal action.

Now AOL is considering the purchase of part of H&R Block's 80% stake in rival CompuServe, which has a large online infrastructure that could help AOL accommodate its subscriber volume.

"As the access issue continues to improve," AOL Chairman-CEO Steve Case said in the most recent of his monthly letters to AOL members, "we will begin marketing on a limited basis, slowly ramping up over time, so we can measure the impact of each incremental increase in marketing."

Contributing: Laura Petrecca.

Copyright April 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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