AOL starts branding push to reconnect with consumers

NEW YORK - America Online is attempting to reach disaffected customers and revitalise its image with a campaign that acknowledges the changing realities of internet access.

In the late 90s, soaring subscriber rates and stock prices made AOL practically synonymous with the internet. But when the dotcom bubble burst, AOL's 2001 merger with Time Warner went south, and subscriber numbers grew stagnant. Time Warner dropped AOL from its name late last year.

"In the 1990s, when the [web] was new and we were the consumer voice of the internet, it was easy to articulate what we stood for," said John Buckley, EVP of corporate communications. "With the tumult of the past few years, it hasn't been as easy."

So AOL has launched a new branding campaign that harkens back to its roots as the most popular internet service, and how it provides the services consumers want and need, said Buckley.

The campaign focuses on a series of commitments AOL is making to consumers, including protecting members from online threats, protecting children, and protecting member privacy. The campaign also touches on spam and internet scams, innovation, and customer service.

The aim is to reconnect with consumers regarding the values that are important to them and the ways in which AOL meets those needs, Buckley said.

In a strategic shift from past outreach efforts, AOL is now tapping the power of its massive work force as a conduit to the community. All of AOL's 19,000 worldwide employees recently received a 20-page booklet outlining the company's vision and commitments to customers. The goal is to create a greater synergy between the efforts of the marketing department and the employees' understanding of the company's vision

"PR is very much at the core of us identifying the issues that most concern consumers, and us offering ways to solve and ease those concerns," said Buckley, formerly director of communications with the Republican National Committee.

AOL will reach out to consumer and trade press with information about consumers' internet concerns and what AOL is doing to meet those needs. AOL also will be making news as part of the campaign, but Buckley declined to specify what that news would be.

"We're re-establishing our voice and ability to articulate these issues as the leader in the online industry," Buckley added.

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