As AOL Shops Around, TBWA Resigns Account

By Michael McCarthy

NEW YORK–TBWA Chiat/Day has resigned as lead agency for America Online following the service’s recent moves to hire a variety of agencies on a project basis.

Mary Maroun, managing director of TBWA Chiat/Day’s New York office, said the agency resigned the business last Friday. ‘Despite the impressive growth and the real success of the ‘Jetsons’ campaign, our relationship was less than ideal,’ she said. ‘It’s awkward when your client tells you they want to go shopping. It doesn’t inspire you to invest time and energy in a relationship when they tell you they want to cheat on you.’

AOL has assigned a number of projects to other shops in recent months, all to agencies owned by the Interpublic Group of Cos. Gotham in New York has won the assignment to create the next batch of AOL image ads, which will break in the spring. Western International Media in Los Angeles recently won AOL’s entire media buying account after previously handling a portion of the business. Bob Pittman, chief executive officer of AOL Networks, has close ties to IPG agencies, said sources.

A representative for AOL in Vienna, Va., said the client uses several agencies for creative assignments, and that one of its current shops would pick up responsibilities previously handled by TBWA. The representative confirmed that Western has picked up media buying duties from TBWA Chiat/Day. AOL spent around $70 million on advertising last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Ad spending this year is expected to drop to around $30 million, said sources.

TBWA Chiat/Day first won the account in May 1995 and helped AOL grow from 3 million to 8 million subscribers with campaigns such as its last effort, which featured theme music from The Jetsons, said Maroun. ‘The Jetsons campaign was very successful,’ she said. ‘We got the public’s attention.’

However, the relationship soured as AOL talked with a number of shops and then selected Gotham to create the next image campaign.

–with Teresa Andreoli

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