Friday, March 1, 2002

Knowledge@Emory reports that AOL's President

Knowledge@Emory reports that AOL’s President of Worldwide and Interactive TV Richard Friedman says that AOL’s brand is “the power of a blend of ideas, a sense of identity, and it helps consumers make decisions in a crowded marketplace.” Later in the article, Friedman cites these three examples as evidence that everything at AOL (a “destination”, he says) is about making it easy to use:

Am I the only one with an issue here? If AOL is truly a destination, then Friedman’s got a problem: examples two and three were of sites that are non-obviously AOL properties. When I think of AOL, I think of the stand-alone site – the one that users connect to when they dial in. The Harry Potter tickets were sold through AOL subsidiary, and the Lord of the Rings trailer was at the site New Line Cinemas built. In other words, only the Volvo example shows the reach of AOL. And in that example, .1% of their userbase participated. Not exactly earth-shattering.

AOL needs to figure out if it wants to be a consumer destination – something it does quite well today – or a media company. Friedman made his mark by fashioning MTV in the early days ( wonder what Adam Curry has to say about him?) as a “destination network” and is trying to do the same thing with AOL today. The odd thing is that for all of MTV’s brash posturing, Friedman’s trying to shape AOL by the bland “it’s just so darned easy!” mantra that hardly inspires an emotional attachment.

The ultimate flaw in Freidman’s examples is that two of the three aren’t part of the destination. Valuable services? Yeah, Moviefone is good. But nobody thinks of it as part of AOL, do they? And LotR wasn’t exactly seen as an AOL property. So which is it, Rich? Destination? Or a brand? Can they really be the same?

And financial results aren’t pretty either. As The Motley Fool recently noted, AOL/Time Warner’s lackluster performance (4% revenue growth) could have been a lot worse. “How bad could [things] have been if AOL hadn’t grown subscribers, Warner Music had not landed three of the top five selling music CDs, and the company’s Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings celluloid been anything short of box office gold?”

Bottom line? This is still two companies. Despite Friedman’s claims to the contrary, there is no brand here. Just a couple divisions waging war for the soul of the company.

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