What's in a Name? Everything! (in memoriam AOL)
There seems to be a strange media trend to take established print brands and try to re-invent them with a different name online. A couple of examples just from the b-to-b world: Graphic Arts Monthly from Reed now directs Web traffic to GraphicArtsOnline.com, while Penton is grouping its marketing titles like Direct into something called Chief Marketer.
The obvious reason is to sell increased ad impressions across a network of Web sites, which makes a lot of sense. However, this still can be accomplished without sacrificing the name recognition that publishers have worked so hard for, long before anyone muttered or typed dub-dub-dub-something-dot-com. It seems to me that the Web has somehow influenced publishers' decisions to re-brand online.
For more than a decade now, I haven't been shy about predicting the painful demise of AOL. Once one of the Internet's most recognizable brands, AOL capitalized on unassuming consumers during the early years of the Web who just figured they needed the company's software and an aol.com e-mail address to get online. A deluge of compact discs that were sent in the mail masterfully hammered this misconception home.
What some people forget is that AOL actually purchased Time Warner in 2000, not the other way around, but dropped "AOL" from its name less than three years later. More recently the company was split into distinct groups and now the name AOL is all but history. Instead of handing out CDs with software, Time Warner is giving away nails for the AOL coffin.
Tarnished by legal battles, some of which date back to the heyday of AOL, and over-priced acquisitions (like the blogging product Weblogs or the social networking application Bebo that was purchased for $850 million) the company has settled on names like MediaGlow for its network of 70-plus niche content sites and Platform A ad network. Then there's People Networks, the company's social business that includes Bebo, and FanHouse, which once was AOL Sports.
Whether or not our magazines survive in print five, 10 or 20-plus years from now is anyone's guess. If we're still reading on dead trees (come to think of it, I've never read anything on a live one), or on Web browsers, mobile devices, or the infamous "e-paper," what must happen so we don't end up like AOL? One thing's for sure, we need to build our online presence with the names and brands that our readers and advertisers have grown to trust over the years.