$50 Mil. Portal Push for AOL

NEW YORK America Online said it has chosen Aegis Group’s Carat Interactive and Omnicom Group’s Atmosphere BBDO to lead an estimated $50 million Web campaign for its new free Web portal.

The work for Time Warner’s AOL will mainly use text links and graphical Internet ads.

Interpublic Group’s The Martin Agency in Richmond, Va., will handle a modest offline effort consisting of outdoor, newspaper and magazine ads, as well as some TV and radio spots. (OMD handles media planning and buying on that initiative.)

“The marketplace is clearly evolved,” said Kevin Conroy, executive vice president and COO at AOL Media Networks. “We think that consistent with an evolving business model is to have an evolving marketing strategy.”

That evolution means TV takes a backseat to search marketing, which can target distinct audiences for AOL’s new portal, which is set to launch on July 21 and open up much of AOL’s online programming to non-subscribers. AOL gained momentum for the launch with a well-received online video broadcast of the Live8 concerts in 10 cities earlier this month.

Conroy said search advertising, handled by Carat, would comprise a large portion of the ad campaign, although he declined to specify how much. AOL plans to buy ads corresponding to thousands of keywords on Google and Yahoo, both of which are AOL portal competitors.

“Searchers represent the most active, most interested and most qualified audience for their advertising dollar,” said Carat vp Ron Belanger.

Atmosphere BBDO is tasked with the creative portion of the campaign, which will also focus on niche audiences with potential interest in specific AOL programming. Ads will run on several non-Time Warner sites, including ESPN.com, Discovery Channel and Travelocity.

AOL’s media strategy differs from the approach taken earlier this year by MSN for its search-engine launch. Unlike AOL, Microsoft lead agency McCann Erickson took a traditional approach to building awareness of the new offering, spending heavily on TV as part of an estimated $150 million push.

“We’re trying to reflect what we know to be a shifting media landscape,” Conroy said.