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AOL's image survives intact

Problems in America Online's past have not done significant harm to the company's image among new members, according to a new study.

Problems in America Online's past have not done significant harm to the company's image among new members, according to a study released today.

Despite consistent ridicule and scorn among Netizens using rival ISPs and "early adopter" Web-heads, AOL continues to attract the membership it has always sought: the well-educated, upper-middle-class, brand shopper that views AOL as a tool instead of a technology, according to a report by International Data Corporation.

Senior IDC analyst Tom Kiersted said AOL's consumers seemed to have glossed over the service's scarred history of legal wrangles, privacy lapses, and network failures.

"There is some indication that there is some lingering mistrust, but mostly the big message is...the customers don't care," Kiersted said. "The people who aren't happy with them are people who are using somebody else."

Much of this can be attributed to marketing, which has made AOL one of the most powerful online brands and helped cultivate the largest paid subscriber base on the Internet, now estimated at 13.5 million. And those members are willing to spend money.

AOL has leveraged this fact to sign exclusive deals with the online service as an attempt to vault their exposure and brand. As an example, the study showed that last February Tel-Save, a then-obscure long distance carrier, spent $100 million to exclusively provide long distance telephone service to AOL members.

"They [AOL] are the online people even if it's not the best online service," Kiersted said. "It's ubiquitous, the brand identity really gets across to people."

Other results showed that subscribers would support AOL in other business avenues. For example, 74.6 percent of those surveyed said they would select the online service to provide primary telecommunications services.