Is AOL More Ad-User Friendly?

As an ad medium, America Online has struggled to compete with rivals Yahoo! and Microsoft’s MSN. But nine-month AOL Me-dia Networks president Michael J. Kelly declares the Time Warner unit has turned the corner—and some advertisers and agencies agree.

Last week, Kelly outlined his plan to make AOL “the easiest Internet company to work with.” It includes stripping away some internal walls that had made complex deals difficult for advertisers to tackle (mostly done), improving internal measurement systems (coming next month) and getting further distribution for AOL’s properties on the Internet (rolling out incrementally).

“We have eyeballs and we have targeting,” said Kelly. “And we also have relevancy that’s different.”

Some of the momentum is tangible: In Q2, ad sales for Dulles, Va.-based AOL grew 23 percent, or $42 million, the first year-on-year gain in that area since Q3 2001.

Some of it, less so. Sarah Fay, president of Aegis Group’s Carat Interactive, said her teams have stopped grumbling about doing business with AOL. There’s “a slow recognition that AOL is coming around from the outside,” she said.

Phil Bienert, manager of CRM and e-business for Volvo Cars of North America, added, “As I look towards ’05, I have a couple of things in my mind that a few years ago I wouldn’t have considered talking to them about.” And this, from one of the service’s most outspoken critics (although Volvo never stopped spending money with AOL).

As for the plan to make more of AOL’s proprietary content available to non-subscribers, Kelly de-clined to reveal a timetable. However, subscribers will be introduced to a full-blown, Web-based version of AOL by month’s end.