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AOL Taps CMO

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BOSTON AOL has named John Burbank chief marketing officer as the company continues its push from a subscription-based service to an ad-supported model.

Burbank joins from AT&T, where he had been vp, marketing, a post he held since 2002. During that period, he worked on BBDO's well-known "signal bars" effort for Cingular Wireless, which is now part of AT&T.

"John will help consumers better understand the unique products and programs we offer, and he will help ensure that AOL addresses the needs of our consumers and our advertising partners," said AOL CEO Randy Falco, in a statement.

Falco joined Dulles, Va.-based AOL last fall from NBC, where he spent three decades in various broadcast TV positions. He soon named former Time Warner operations chief Ron Grant president and COO.

Joe Redling last held the CMO title at AOL, but he shifted to chairman and CEO of AOL's international division in September before leaving the company two months later. Burbank's marketing mandate is more all-encompassing and his position is considered new to the company despite the fact that Redling held that title, a client representative said.

AOL spent $200 million in measured media in 2006, down from nearly $300 million the previous year, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. The company spent just $5 million through the first quarter of 2007.

Burbank joins as AT&T struggles to escape the image forged in its dial-up heyday and compete in the contemporary online space with ad-backed rivals such as Google and Yahoo!

Working toward that end, AOL last September shifted branding chores to roster shop Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, an Interpublic Group shop in Boston. Omnicom Group's BBDO in New York, which remains on AOL's roster, had previously handled the company's brand-building work.

Asked if Burbank would immediately undertake agency or branding changes, the AOL rep said, "He has just started so we don't have any comment on that at this point."

Hill, Holliday officials were not immediately available for comment.

The shop's first branding work for AOL launched at the close of 2006 with elements using the line "See what's here for you."

One ad starred Married With Children actor Ed O'Neill touting AOL's online video offering by warning viewers that many clips "will never reach their full potential" if users don't discover watch video.AOL.com. "Make a difference. Just click play," he said, walking across a giant laptop computer. Another spot for AOL's search capabilities took place in an elevator, as a young man who searches for something in his pockets ultimately drops his pants.

The company has also looked to acquisitions to build momentum and infrastructure, scooping up Boston-based Third Screen Media in April in order to expand its Advertising.com network. Third Screen places ads on mobile media devices.

Also in April, AOL unveiled original Web programming designed to weave brands into the interactive experience. The Web portal plans to roll out five new programs over the next year, including an Internet version of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, an interactive gaming experience tied to Shrek the Third and an online competition to build a virtual civilization.