America Online Seeks Star Treatment

The campaign that breaks for America Online Broadband on the March 23 Oscar telecast will be typical BBDO, sources said: big-budget production with a heavy dose of celebrities.

AOL’s selection of BBDO, said one executive, signals a desire on the part of the client for more “personality driven” advertising compared with the retail-oriented ads of past years.

The emphasis of the brand message will also depart from previous campaigns by Interpublic Group’s Gotham, which emphasized the speed and ease-of-use of the service. Client executives thought the work did not differentiate AOL Broadband from its competitors, all of which are considered easy and fast.

Instead, BBDO’s campaign will focus on AOL Broadband’s links to its proprietary Time Warner content, which includes magazines such as Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Weekly and People, as well as the CNN news service and music from Warner Music.

Gotham, New York, which held the business for six years, was dismissed in January. Most of its ads were testimonials that highlighted the service’s features and offerings.

AOL will introduce an array of services beyond its current e-mail, instant messaging, communities, programming and information, sources said. “It engages, inspires, entertains, thrills,” said one source of the new broadband offering. “It fascinates. You have control over it. Instead of saying, ‘AOL has these things,’ the approach of the work is how the product dimensionalizes the experience of being in control.”

Len Short, the former Charles Schwab executive who arrived at AOL as evp of brand marketing in January, said BBDO “presented an extremely compelling, comprehensive treatment of the broadband concept. It’s a good way to begin to have our message unfold in the marketplace.”

Short has said he wants AOL’s advertising to persuade consumers that by switching to AOL Broadband, they will be “going from black and white to color.” He said that while the Internet alone has not changed household behavior, broadband will, and the ads must reflect how.

AOL ranks as the No.1 ISP, but it is the poorest-performing division of AOL Time Warner, with ad revenue down 40 percent last year to $1.6 billion. AOL has just under half of the nearly 2 million broadband subscribers in the market, according to industry estimates.

The work that BBDO presented on storyboards is what will be produced, sources said.

The Omnicom shop won the cornerstone piece of the estimated $150 million account on Friday, besting roster shop Maxxcom’s Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Miami. CP+B retains AOL’s Moviefone business, which client executives said will be expanded.

Other contenders were Omnicom’s DDB, New York; Publicis Groupe’s Saatchi & Saatchi, New York; Interpublic Group’s Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston and New York; and independent Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore. IPG’s Initiative handles the Dulles, Va., client’s media, which is unaffected. The client will brief Wieden and BBDO this week in the competition for AOL’s overall brand account, the client said. Final presentations for that assignment will take place next month.

But some sources said the corporate-image pitch may be moot. “The broadband campaign is pretty much the campaign,” one source said, adding that the bulk of the media spend will be on promoting broadband.

Short said BBDO was not a front-runner during the review process, despite his relationship with the shop while he was at Schwab, a former BBDO client. He had also awarded the New York agency one-off AOL Broadband assignments earlier this year, most notably for the Super Bowl.

“It really never gave them an advantage,” Short said. “They won this hands down based on what they presented. They overwhelmed us in the pitch.”

BBDO New York CEO Bill Katz and chief client officer Lynne Seid led the pitch from the account side, while senior ecds Charlie Miesmer and Jimmy Siegel presented the creative.

Katz said the agency expects to “staff up” to service AOL on both the creative and account sides. “This is a big win for us,” he said.