United Online Debuts First Ads After Merger

Internet service provider United Online is launching a new series of television ads this week, in an effort to get its new name in front of consumers, following the company’s formation with the merger of rivals NetZero and Juno in September.

Of the Westlake Village, Calif. firm’s three new TV spots, two will strive to position the company as the market leader for “value-priced” dialup Internet access. The ads encourage consumers to save money by switching to Juno’s premium service, which charges $9.95 a month.

“Our goal with this campaign is to aggressively educate consumers about the money they can save by switching to a quality Internet service … for about half the price of many other ISPs,” said Brian Woods, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of United Online.

The company also plans to keep the NetZero name alive to refer to the company’s free, ad-supported access, and will launch a third ad resurrecting that brand’s first advertising.

That execution is expected to reprise NetZero’s first black-and-white ads, launched in 1999, and its original tagline, “Defenders of the Free World.” The first execution in the tongue-in-cheek “Defenders” campaign featured actors playing NetZero executives, who argued for Americans’ rights to free Internet access before a Senate hearing.

“Our primary objective is clearly to grow our pay subscriber base, but it is also important to continue to promote our free offerings, since a large portion of our pay subscribers have come to us from the free service — a key component of our strategy for cost-effective growth,” Woods said.

The new advertising effort — and that strategy — comes following a tumultuous year for free- and low-cost Internet access. The past twelve months have seen NetZero and Juno respond to advertising’s growing inability to cover the costs of free ISP service by capping user’s free access, and charging fees for nonpaying users that exceeded a monthly allotment.

Both companies also began trying to convince free access users to switch over to paid services — Juno, for instance, experimented with charging some heavy users $29.99 per month, well above the industry norm for dialup access.

Still, United Online said it plans to run the new campaigns throughout the holiday season, which it says is traditionally when consumers change ISPs

But the company, the country’s third-largest ISP, is likely to continue to see fierce competition for consumer attention from the bigger players: AOL Time Warner and Microsoft’s MSN, both of which use their Web properties to perennially promote their own Internet access services.

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