AOL Hires An Agency To "Refresh" The Brand


NEW YORK ( — AOL is calling on Leo Burnett USA to help reinvent the brand and give the internet giant a new corporate identity as it prepares to spin off from Time Warner (TWX) and emerge as an independent, publicly traded firm later this year.

The move comes after AOL in July quietly reached out to five agencies, a mix of large, traditional ad firms and small design shops, in what AOL Chief Operating Officer Kim Partoll calls “a very accelerated pitch process.” Agencies had two weeks to respond to AOL’s request for proposals, and the company spent about a week deliberating.

The chance to be associated with dusting off the AOL brand and reintroducing it as a public company is one that few shops would pass up. That it called upon Leo Burnett — perceived in the ad circles as old-school and conventional — indicates that AOL, an internet company with a 25-year history, has no intentions of trying to be cool.

 Ad Age Digital  DigitalNext  MediaWorks The hire is also significant since AOL of late has had only small engagements with ad agencies, and hasn’t retained a shop for a major brand assignment in several years.

“Leo’s proposal to us captured all of the criteria set up in the conversations [AOL CEO Tim Armstrong] and I had,” Ms. Partoll said. Mr. Armstrong, who joined AOL in March from Google, was involved in establishing AOL’s strategy for talking about its brand going forward, but not the agency selection. That decision was led by Ms. Partoll and Grant Belaire, director of global brand marketing at AOL.

By the sounds of it, AOL is looking to Leo Burnett to help it tweak and refresh its image, rather than make wholesale changes. The company name is remaining intact, but in early fourth quarter, a “refreshed” AOL logo will be revealed, aimed at bringing “more energy and more life to [AOL’s] visual representation,” Ms. Partoll said.

In the same time frame, it will ramp up B-to-B and consumer communications to talk about both AOL’s portfolio of branded properties — which include AOL Advertising and AOL Media, formerly known as Platform-A and Mediaglow — as well as unbranded content sites, such as TMZ and Walletpop. AOL is still an internet giant; it’s the fourth-largest U.S. internet property with 104 million unique visitors in July, but its audience has dropped about 5% year over year, according to ComScore data.

Marketing budget for the assignment was not disclosed, but Ms. Partoll said it’s “a small budget by any brand company’s marker.”

“It’s a fabled firm and they’ve done amazing work over the years with terrific brands,” Ms. Partoll said. The appointment comes on the heels of the agency recruiting Susan Credle from BBDO, New York to serve as its chief creative officer along with other creative hires to boost its U.S. operations.

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