So AOL, that company that is perhaps best known as the one that gave us Instant Messenger and truck-loads of wasted CD's, is going to hell in a hand basket. That's not really news, but according to today's NY Times, "Jeffrey L. Bewkes, the chief executive of Time Warner, AOL’s parent company, acknowledged weakness in the business and said he was open to combining AOL with another company." Their entire business strategy at this point is to sell advertising on all of their extremely disjointed websites, by buying up and rolling together 7 different advertising companies that previously had nothing to do with each other. They are calling this random mash-up "Platform A." Randy Falco, the chief executive of AOL, says that The management changes were necessary to be able to move quickly. "After spending dearly to amass assets, the trick was to get them working together and integrated in a very meaningful way.”
The problem is, their strategy of just buying up random companies and hoping that it will all somehow work together is pretty much all that they have been doing since the 90's, and it hasn't been going very well for them. Anyone ever heard of AIM Pages? How about AIM Groups? Userplane? People Connection? The list goes on for about, well, forever. Every time something new and interesting comes out, such as social networking sites like Myspace, AOL's reaction is to buy another company, and then let it sit, just hoping that it will catch on. Now, AOL’s Web sites may attract 112 million visitors a month, but if you consider the sheer number of websites that they have, plus the fact that one pops up every time you open AIM, it's really not that impressive and is no indication that they have a healthy, thriving business on their hands.
The reason why this sad story caught my interest is because I (as part of a team of 22 senior marketing majors at Ithaca College) am participating in this years AAF National Student Advertising Competition, and the sponsor for the year happens to be none other than AOL. So while AOL employees hold "screaming matches" in their offices about how to get their company off the ground, hundreds of college students from around the country are busy trying to fix this mess (and don't get me wrong, despite screaming matches of our own, it's a lot of fun).
Look for our brilliant solutions this June, at the NSAC finals in Atlanta.