Monday, January 12, 2009

House of brands or branded house: AOL says both

Big companies with diverse product lines have sometimes struggled with the idea of being a branded house (think Apple or Microsoft) or being a house of brands (think P&G).

And for all the 'new' bandied about in new media, many early movers have struggled with a portal, vortal, niche site personality disorder.

One early mover online, AOL, appears to be shifting strategy to become, to some extent, a house of brands. Having migrated from it's proprietary, garden-wall software experience (does anyone remember the landfill's worth of software install discs they received in the mail?) to a web-based experience, AOL's content remains largely branded as AOL Sports, AOL Finance and so on.

But much like magazine publishers of years past, AOL is pursuing web properties that have little, if any, brand identification with the AOL mothership. Sites like, Engadget or Joystiq are all part of a 75+ site AOL universe and yet you have to look very hard to see any branding with AOL.

Of course the web facilitates fragmented media for fragmented interests, but this also seems to be a turning point for AOL: Pursuing a mixed branding strategy of both branded house and house of brands.

Is it possible to pursue seemingly competing strategies? Time (Warner) will tell.

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