AOL Taps Three Agencies for Relaunch

America Online is expected to announce today Carat Interactive, Atmosphere BBDO, and The Martin Agency have been selected to execute a three-pronged ad campaign for the highly anticipated launch of the revamped free portal.

AOL is expected to spend $50 million on the campaign, say sources. The portal is AOL’s attempt to compete with other free, ad-supported online services, such as Yahoo and Microsoft’s MSN. AOL’s paid subscriber base continues to plummet, from an all-time high of 26.7 million subscribers in 2002 to 21.7 million in March 2005.

Atmosphere BBDO, which has worked on the AOL account since 2002, will handle the campaign’s online advertising, expected to debut in early August. Andreas Combuechen, chairman, CEO, and chief creative officer at Atmosphere BBDO New York, told ClickZ News the online campaign will aim to position separately from AOL’s subscription offering.

“Our job is to make sure we don’t create roadblocks to and to create advertising that moves people to the relevant experiences there,” he said. “Do we have to be concerned about AOL the service? Not really. The campaign is going to be reflective of the richness of what they have created [at].”

Carat Interactive will oversee the campaign’s search marketing, according to AOL.

“Search marketing is now critical as search engines will actually be able to surface our programming for the first time out on the free Web,” said Kevin Conroy, executive vice president, AOL Media Networks, in a statement. Conroy is overseeing the launch.

The search campaign is already underway. In June, David Liu, general manager, told ClickZ News the portal was aggressively buying keywords and keyword phrases to drive traffic to the new site.

The Martin Agency will handle the offline effort, scheduled to begin in the fall. That campaign will include newspaper, magazine, outdoor, TV, and radio ads. “While the magic of this launch is online at the portal, we have to reach audiences offline, too,” said John Adams, chairman and CEO of The Martin Agency, in a statement.

The new site will offer features previously available only to AOL’s paid subscribers.

AOL is generally considered to be an Internet access provider for beginners. Yet the company was successful with this month’s Live 8 concert, with a reported 5 million unique visitors. Many see this as a possible precursor of things to come as AOL works to revamp its image among Internet users.

A trial version of the portal, which is scheduled to be officially unveiled in early August, is available for preview. Users can click the “ beta” link that went up about three weeks ago on the portal. It’s expected to replace the current in early August.

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