Turning around a tech pioneer
In 2007 USA Today ranked AOL 4th (behind the Web, email and graphic user interfaces) in a list of 25 things that shaped the internet. An early tech pioneer, they had provided premium internet service to millions worldwide in the late 90’s and early 00’s. For many, AOL was their first gateway to the World Wide Web.
But the media world had changed – from one-way broadcast to conversations that were fragmented, non-linear and niche. Stuck in an outdated model, AOL found itself suffering from a decline in subscriptions, revenue, morale and brand image. Following an unsuccessful eight-year merger with Time Warner, they now planned to spin-off and become a separate public company.
Recognising its change-or-die position, AOL hired a new CEO – Tim Armstrong – and new management. Their goal was to create a company with a new strategy and mission: to inform, entertain and connect the world with extraordinary content experiences.
“AOL is a turnaround situation… It will take every ounce of blood, sweat and tears to make it successful.” Tim Armstrong, CEO, AOL
AOL asked us to help make them a 'media company for the 21st century'. First, they needed to signal to the world that AOL was no longer a corporation from the past that provided access. It was now a future-forward, creative cultural force that delivers unique, relevant content. Since AOL was all about its content, it needed an identity that could also act as a platform. So we created a simple, confident logotype that could be revealed by ever-changing imagery. The new logotype was unveiled just as the AOL common stock began trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
The new identity captured the attention of investors and media, subsequently winning prestigious awards from both AIGA and the Cannes Lions. Named 'Best Identity of 2010' by influential identity blog Under Consideration, the transformation was just beginning.
“Our new identity is uniquely dynamic. Our business is focused on creating world-class experiences for consumers and AOL is centered on creative and talented people – employees, partners, and advertisers. We have a clear strategy that we are passionate about and we plan on standing behind the AOL brand as we take the company into the next decade.” Tim Armstrong, CEO, AOL
Working closely with Tim Armstrong and the leadership team, we helped define and translate their vision into a new platform for the business. Our role was not to make things more consistent, but instead disrupt accepted web 2.0 conventions by creating a platform that embraced fragmentation, sharing and non-linear pathways to content.
One key output was a new brand architecture for the entire business, with a clear sense of how past and future acquisitions such as Huffington Post connected to AOL and vice versa.
We also led projects to help them be more creative and original. Building confidence and pride within AOL, we coined a new mantra: 'beat the internet', and demonstrated ways to make the new focus on creativity and originality both tangible and exciting for employees.
Externally, we activated the brand by creating new initiatives and innovative platforms. These included MAKERS: Women Who Make America, 30-second weekly world news round ups and AOLartists.com (930,000 unique visitors in the first 6 months), as well as the AOL Originals with Chuck Close and 25 for 25 grants program.
“The Internet has become tired and lazy and needs better quality content. This is an ambitious mission, and we have a lot of work to do, but unlike most 21st century media companies we are hiring, developing and encouraging the best creative talent in the world.” Tim Armstrong, CEO, AOL
Within the first year of the spinoff announcement, 40% of users described the AOL brand as 'creative'. By the end of 2010, AOL was the only major brand to have a better 'buzz' score than major online brands such as Google, Facebook and Yahoo!, according to Brand Index. In 2012, AOL was dubbed by some “the hottest tech stock in 2012”.
AOL has successfully reinvented itself as a brand-led company committed to innovating, growing and investing in experiences that inform, entertain and connect the world. Home to a world-class collection of premium brands, AOL is now creating original content that engages audiences on a local and global scale.