Refocusing a media company around content

Brand Positioning & Creative Strategy




To turn its business around, tech pioneer AOL needed to become more than a name synonymous with Internet access.

We helped it evolve into a brand-led media company for the 21st century, with creativity at its core.

I worked with Tim Armstrong and team to reposition AOL to become a leading, innovative entertainment and content platform, now worth $4.4 billion, at Wolff Olins. 


Defining Goals


Turning around a tech pioneer

In 2007 USA Today ranked AOL 4th (behind the Web, email and graphic user interfaces) in a list of 25 things that shaped the internet. An early tech pioneer, they had provided premium internet service to millions worldwide in the late 90’s and early 00’s. For many, AOL was their first gateway to the World Wide Web.

But the media world had changed – from one-way broadcast to conversations that were fragmented, non-linear and niche. Stuck in an outdated model, AOL found itself suffering from a decline in subscriptions, revenue, morale and brand image.




Signal the change towards a future-forward brand identity.

First, AOL needed to signal to the world that AOL was no longer a corporation from the past that provided access. It was now a future-forward, creative cultural force that delivers unique, relevant content.

We interviewed stakeholders throughout the organization and synthesized key data and inflection points. Next we conducted a workshop with the executive team. We landed on key areas that would act as a springboard for our brand purpose and identity. 

Below is an example of what we uncovered in our brand vision workshop.

AOL Vision

Below is our strategic framework and brand purpose statement for AOL. 

AOL Brand Purpose Strategic Framework



We created an iconic brand platform that connects people to relevant news and original content.

AOL was all about its content. It needed an identity that could also act as a platform. So we created a simple, confident logotype that could be revealed by ever-changing imagery, called the brand canvas.

AOL Brand Identity Platform
Our new identity is uniquely dynamic. We plan on standing behind the brand as we take the company into the next decade.
— Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL



Transforming the brand with creative and original initiatives. 

Working closely with the leadership team, I helped define and translate their vision into a new platform for the business. We developed a new brand architecture with a clear sense of how past and future acquisitions will be connected to AOL.

Internally, we helped build confidence in creativity and originality, for consumers and fans, we activated brand-led initiatives. These included MAKERS: Women Who Make America and (930,000 unique visitors in the first 6 months), as well as the AOL Originals with Chuck Close and 25 for 25 grants programs.

I led the strategy and production of Tim Armstrong's CEO video podcast that connected and covered the happenings of 8 global offices for over 5,600 employees in the organization. 

AOL_Wall postings



Brand-led reinvention
Within the first year of the spinoff announcement, 40% of users described the AOL brand as ‘creative’. By the end of 2010, AOL was the only major brand to have a better ‘buzz’ score than major online brands such as Google, Facebook and Yahoo!, according to Brand Index. In 2012, AOL was dubbed by some “the hottest tech stock in 2012”.

The identity won prestigious awards from both AIGA and the Cannes Lions and was named ‘Best Identity of 2010’ by influential identity blog Under Consideration.

Today, AOL has successfully reinvented itself as a brand-led company that invests in experiences that align with its mission. Home to a world-class collection of premium brands, it creates original content that engages audiences on a local and global scale.


Janice Chow

Let's work together


I'll partner with you to hone in on a strategic vision, uncover users' needs, and launch a brand, product, or service that stands out.