Campaign Highlights AOL’s New Low-Cost Dialup Service

Users tired of email addresses such as “john3917654@earthlink.com” have a chance to create new identities — America Online is offering email addresses for common names such as “bob@netscape.com” via an eBay auction promoting its new low-cost dial-up Internet service.

The charity auction is a major element of a year-long, multimillion-dollar ad campaign that launched Thursday along with the new Netscape-branded service. The campaign tagline is “Just the Net You Need,” emphasizing the service’s no-frills nature, and includes banner ads, rich media, text links, integrated promotions and direct response advertising.

“It’s definitely a novel way of approaching it and it will create buzz in the industry,” said Marc Ryan, director of analysis with Nielsen//Net Ratings, of the auction. “I think it’s a great idea.” The auction runs Jan. 8 to Jan. 14 and can be accessed at getnetscape.com/ebay.

“We went to the Social Security Administration and found out the top 100 male and female names,” said Joel Davidson, executive VP, AOL Access Business. “People can bid on them just as they normally would for anything on eBay.” Winning bidders will get a year of free Internet access as well, Davidson said.

Minimum bids start at $9.95, echoing the service’s monthly fee. The proceeds of the auction will go to City Year, an organization that coordinates year-long stints of community service for young adults.

Other elements of the ad campaign include Mini Coopers anointed with the “Just the Net You Need” tagline zooming around Las Vegas during the Consumer Electronics Show Jan. 8 through 11.

Ads currently up on the Netscape site use black type on a plain white background, with “$9.95,” the monthly cost of the dial-up service, displayed near the center. The service, heralded in October, also offers built-in spam filters, Internet search enhanced by Google technology and a start page with news headlines.

AOL is using the well-known Netscape brand for the service, perhaps to distance it from the flagship AOL ISP service, in an effort to drive a wedge into the economy-cost dialup market. It is competing with providers such as Earthlink and United Online , which have seen subscriber growth in 2003 for their lower-priced Internet access offerings ranging from $9.95 to $15.95 a month.

“While getting ready to launch, AOL has been upfront about the fact that they need to spend a fair amount of money making people aware of the service,” said Joe Laszlo, a senior analyst with Jupiter Research, owned by Jupitermedia, the parent company of this publication. “They will be spending a fair amount of money in terms of banners and other ad spend as well.”

Laszlo liked the idea of the auction.

“The dial-up market is pretty well saturated. So anything they can think of to get attention is a good idea. As far as gimmicks go, the idea of getting your email address through an auction is clever,” Laszlo said.

“While it usually takes money for an ISP to acquire a customer,” he said, “now they’re getting people to pay them.”

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