Chandler Officially Gets NetZero Creative Account

After a court ship of nearly two years, Internet service provider NetZero is getting hitched to the ad agency that created its “Defenders of the free world” campaign.

Robert Chandler & Partners, a small boutique in Marina del Rey, Calif., has been officially awarded the creative portion of the account. Initiative Media here will plan and buy media on the account, which exceeded $50 million in billings last year. (Although the budget for 2001 was not disclosed, the client is spending more than $20 million this year as part of a three-year deal to sponsor the halftime show during NBC’s NBA games.)

Though NetZero has used Chandler for all of its ads since a trade campaign in mid-1999, the work has been done on a project basis.

“It’s the difference between being engaged and getting married,” said Robert Chandler, the veteran adman who has served as creative director at BBDO and executive CD of Ogilvy & Mather. “When you consider they went from about 600,000 subscribers when we started with them to about 7 million now, I think we’ve proven ourselves.”

The “Defenders” branding campaign uses stark black-and-white imagery with plots that strive to be both dramatic and humorous. The two most recent commercials showed people waiting inside a dreary airport and in a rope line outside a hot nightclub. In both spots, a woman wearing an old-fashioned aviator’s helmet wonders why people are still paying admission for something NetZero offers free of charge.

Earlier ads showed a Russian fighter pilot being interrogated after defecting to the U.S. for free Internet service and tense congressional hearings in which a woman testifies that free Internet should be a right.

NetZero chief marketing officer Brian Woods said the client was pleased with the “creative vision” advanced by the agency. “Having a well-known brand is key to our success,” he said.