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AOL revival brings more ads

In tying up with CBS, the online giant decides to bring back an old marketing tool it had shelved for the past two years, the "thank you" screen.

Last week, when America Online announced the signing of a deal with CBS to promote the network's television programs throughout its service, the online giant also decided to revive an old marketing tool it had shelved for the past two years.

Now, when AOL members log out, they are reunited with the "thank you" screen, a window that is displayed for 45 seconds before the user ends an AOL session.

Aol "thank you" screen
AOL "thank you" screen

On the top half of the screen, the user sees the evening's listing of CBS television programs. The bottom half presents a product advertisement with a button that leads to a more detailed description and the purchasing sequence.

Though temporary, the screen cannot be removed by any marketing controls, which is contrary to the case for other AOL direct marketing efforts such as pop-up advertisements, mass U.S. mailings, telephone solicitations, and on rare occasions mass emails. Each of these preferences can be turned off by visiting AOL "marketing preferences."

The thank you screen, on the other hand, cannot.

AOL's decided to revive the screen, according to AOL spokeswoman Wendy Goldberg, because the online service has been "always looking at different features and introducing them again."

The thank you screen was used up until 1996, and taken out of circulation shortly after the online service suffered a series of notorious service outages at the end of the year.

Could this rekindled marketing device be considered a pop-up ad? "This is not a pop-up," said Goldberg. "Pop-ups are single purpose ads that you have to click off. It's not a pop-up but just another screen."

AOL is "planning right now for [the thank you screens] to stay up as a feature of the service," she added, noting that the feature is only available to subscribers who are designated as "adults." Screen names registered as "kids," "young teens," or "mature teens" via parental controls will not receive the thank you notice.

AOL has maintained in the past that pop-up advertisements are an effective way to generate targeted advertising revenues or bear messages about changes in the service. But the inclusion of what many users consider an intrusive marketing device has raised the ire of many AOL members and Netizens alike.

"They're going to create more ill will with users," warned Chris Charron, an analyst at Forrester Research.

However, Charron added that sneaking in an additional promotional vehicles may be better off during the logout rather than popping up in the middle of an activity.

"The fact that they are at the sign out period as opposed to the middle of the AOL session, I think, will lessen the blow a little bit," Charron added. "It's not like they're in the middle of a chat, in the middle of a search, or in the middle of reading. That's when it really becomes a real problem."