Perspective: AOL Time Warner: a deal that needs a reality injection

Yup, another column on AOL Time Warner. But I make no apologies because, despite the fat column inches already devoted to the deal, it’s clear that no-one’s quite sure what it all means. So I proceed with impunity.

Yup, another column on AOL Time Warner. But I make no apologies

because, despite the fat column inches already devoted to the deal, it’s

clear that no-one’s quite sure what it all means. So I proceed with

impunity.



First, let’s cut the journalistic platitudes about a new star appearing

in the heavens - and get down to the nitty gritty: what does it mean for

us, the advertising community.



There’s no doubt that the real value of this mega-merger will be the

ability of AOL Time Warner to drive subscriptions and ad revenue across

its combined asset base. If one argument for the wisdom of the deal is

the ability to pull consumers from AOL Time Warner’s print, broadcast

and internet content through various channels of distribution, then

surely the same advantages are to be had from driving ad revenues.



Which is potentially good news for advertisers. The merger of AOL’s

internet assets with Time Warner’s mass-market content and cable

distribution will for the first time offer advertisers the opportunity

to market their products online and offline in a meaningful way through

a single entity. Marrying the internet’s potential for one-to-one

communication with the opportunities for broad-based branding afforded

by Time Warner’s popular content could be the panacea advertisers never

knew they were looking for. But it will require a fundamental

advertising rethink.



For a start, the cross-media ad sell has never really been delivered,

even by old media sharing the same client base and talking to the same

media agencies. Sales teams are generally bonused on their performance

against one media, not on group ad sales, and individual fiefdoms

provide the sort of corporate politics which get in the way of

maximising revenue across the group.



It’s the same in media agencies, where broadcast director, press

director, new-media specialist, sponsorship operations and product

placement companies all jostle for a share of the action. Clients, too,

are only just beginning to get to grips with strategic media

communications management on a pan-regional scale. Are they ready for

packaged communications solutions that span their entire product

portfolio and run across a diverse but familial group of media

assets?



The chances of a major international advertiser such as a Procter &

Gamble being offered a meaningful package of commercial opportunities

spanning AOL Time Warner’s online, magazine, TV, movie and cable assets

seems a long way off. Both Time Warner and AOL separately are far from

having a focused corporate, global advertising strategy so they’re

unlikely to have much idea of a combined one. But the development of a

more streamlined approach to ad sales across the media giant is only a

matter of time.



Then all we’ll have to worry about is whether the consumer actually

cares.



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