AOL Exec Explains Rebranding

If you’re at all interested in media, you’ve no doubt heard about AOL’s latest attempt to rebrand itself. The effort, led by ex-Googler Tim Armstrong, who became the company’s CEO in March. Armstrong brought another former Google employee, Maureen Sullivan, on board, to drive the rebranding. The 27 year-old Sullivan, who holds the title “chief of staff,” worked with branding firm Wolff Olins to reintroduce AOL as a media brand. The hope, she said, is that AOL, which is now spun off from Time Warner,  will be seen as a source of quality content a la The New York Times or the BBC. Sullivan discussed the rebranding with Brandweek editor Todd Wasserman.

Brandweek: Why is AOL not doing offline ads?
Maureen Sullivan:
We are a media company who exists in an online world. We have nearly 100 million people visiting our properties and using our products daily. We are fortunate to have loyal AOL users that interact with our sites and our products every day. Awareness of our brand is not our issue. A traditional advertising campaign is not our focus as a company right now. We are focused on improving perceptions of our brand by delivering world-class content experiences and products to our users.  Our new brand will function as an invitation to the world to reconsider and explore the new AOL and our business priority is to continue to invest in improving our products and properties.
BW: What are you hoping to achieve with this rebranding?
The mission for the brand is threefold: 
1) To launch a brand identity that conveys our mission as a company and the energy and focus of our employees to deliver world-class consumer experiences. 
2) To introduce AOL to the world as a source of premium original content .
3) To connect the dots across all of our properties and products—helping our users find more of what interests them and delivering engaged audiences to our advertising partners.
BW: What’s the  biggest misconception about AOL and how are you addressing it here?
We are still seen by many as solely an Internet access business, and while we were pioneers of the first wave of the Internet, helping millions of people get online, we are now entering a new phase of our development as content pioneers, we have been working really hard on building original content across multiple topics and passion points that our users love, many of which are best in class including Engadget, Politics Daily, AOL Music, Black Voices and many others. We are committed to hiring journalists and fostering a creative standard of excellence across everything we do.
BW: If the sites  you have are getting good traffic, why make a bigger deal about the AOL  affiliation. Why not leave it alone?
We are taking a unique approach to how we execute our new brand identity across all of our sites and products. We believe the 21st century of branding is not about stamping a monolithic corporate logo across everything we do. However, we also needed a clearer way for our consumers to understand our commitment to delivering quality content and products. Our new brand identity enables us to convey that commitment to quality while respecting the great properties that our audiences love.
BW: The way people consume media these days it seems that the source is often beside the point. Do you think you can reverse that trend?
We aren’t setting out to reverse that trend. We love that our consumers can find our original content across infinite platforms. For us it’s [about] understanding that some of the most powerful brands in the world are media brands that people trust and respect (brands like the BBC, HBO, and Disney) because they have a clear point of view, immaculate standards, and continually innovate and delight their customers. We are focused on being a brand that surprises and delights our consumers with world-class content and product experiences.