What is the world’s smallest deck chair?

aol-logo-4It’s the period in Aol. As in, America Online’s new branding effort, which changes the company from AOL to Aol. – but doesn’t make it any more relevant in a post-internet-service-provider world.

Seriously, this isn’t like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic; as AOL and Time Warner complete their de-merger, it’s like replacing the rubber pad on a leg of a deck chair so it doesn’t scuff the deck.

I don’t understand why Aol. even exists anymore, except that it’s too big to go away quietly. The services it provided in the early days of the Internet – everything under one roof like a well-lit mall in an otherwise under-developed part of town – have all been superseded by a wider variety of offerings on the well-developed ‘Net.

Its search engine has dropped out of the top tier and offers no unique user value that would separate it from any others.

And I’m always startled when I find myself exchanging e-mails with someone who still has an address at the aol.com domain. Actually, it’s not an exchange; any e-mail I’ve sent in the last few months to the few Aol.-users I know has bounced back to me. Just this morning, I printed out a document and put it in an envelope with a stamp, because the Aol. user’s address rejected the attachment.

aol-logo-3Yes, Aol. has a brand problem. If you’re an investor who bet your retirement on AOL-Time Warner, the brand represents broken promises and unfulfilled dreams. For pretty much everyone else it represents obsolescence.

aol-logo-2That’s obviously not what the folks at Aol. and its branding agency, Wolff Olins (of the Omnicom Group) are thinking.

In its coverage (linked above), The New York Times quotes Sam Wilson, managing director in the New York of Wolff Olins, the branding agency Aol. has hired. The Times writes:

The period in the logo was added to suggest “confidence, completeness,” Ms. Wilson said, by declaring that “AOL is the place to go for the best content online, period.”

aol-logo-1The article also quotes Aol.’s CEO (or is that Ceo.?) Tim Armstrong:

Mr. Armstrong said he liked to describe the period as “the AOL dot” because “the dot is the pivot point for what comes after AOL,” whether it is e-mail, Web sites or coming offerings that will “surprise people.”

What will surprise me is if Aol. can provide the Internet community with a reason to exist other than its legacy – something about which the online world is notoriously indifferent. To me, the dot looks a lot like the head of a nail, a coffin nail maybe – which might be enough to keep the deck chairs from sliding around as the ship continues to list.

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