AOL makes Super Bowl play for dial-up customers

Internet service provider America Online plans to make an aggressive advertising play during this year’s Super Bowl to hold on to its core dial-up subscriber base.

AOL, the online unit of media conglomerate Time Warner, will use the venue to promote a new service called TopSpeed, which accelerates the pace of moving through the Web, as well as a spruced-up brand image.

Dulles, Va.-based AOL has been beset in recent quarters by rivals offering cheaper or speedier services, and the new marketing effort could be key to stemming subscriber losses.

Advertising experts say no other televised event can compete with the Super Bowl, set for Feb. 1 in Houston, for driving home a marketing message to the widest possible audience.

“We have to play on that level because the brand warfare had gotten to that level,” said Len Short, AOL’s executive vice president for brand marketing. “It has been a big part of our approach…to play some significant role in big events where everyone is watching.”

In 2003, the company jumped into the Super Bowl ad battle, where advertisers trot out some of their agencies’ best creative work, at the last minute with a hastily composed 15-second spot and a replay of the game’s commercials on its Internet site.

This year, AOL will debut three new commercials during the game, where 30-second spots have commanded an average of $2.3 million apiece.

“Big-event advertising is becoming stronger, so advertisers are looking for more venues like the Super Bowl,” said Alan Kalter, chief executive of the independent ad agency Doner. “Now there’s even more hype. The bowl games are now becoming launch spots (for new products) because it’s close to the new year, highly promoted and visible.”

The AOL ads were created by the Wieden + Kennedy agency and feature the Teutel family, a father-and-sons team whose business building customized motorcycles has attracted attention on cable channel Discovery’s “American Chopper” program.

The advertising will promote AOL’s TopSpeed technology, a free feature for subscribers that can significantly speed up Internet use for dial-up users as well as higher-speed broadband connections. The spots show Paul Teutel Sr. and his son, Paul Jr., mistakenly trying to use the TopSpeed technology for their “choppers,” to the dismay and potential injury of second son Mikey.

AOL will also sponsor the Super Bowl’s half-time show and keep viewers plugged in to its Internet site with special game-related entertainment, including footage of posh celebrity parties. will replay the commercials after the game and allow users to vote for their favorite ads.

“The Super Bowl moment is a moment to redefine,” Short said. “The whole broadband category is still evolving…but the core of our business is narrowband and making sure people say AOL has all of the stuff that I care about.”

Story Copyright © 2004 Reuters Limited . All rights reserved.