Last week three things transpired that resulted in me writing this post.
Sam DeSimone invited me to the EarthLink annual sales meeting to listen to his 20 year history of EarthLink presentation. Part of that included this CNBC profile on how we built a marketing machine. I posted that to Twitter, Michael Tavani said post more, and totally unrelated Don Roberts sent me an email with a link to MindSpring’s television ads and said why don’t you post these. So here they are.
1999 was so long ago. This was during an era of sock puppets and cannons. To quote The Wall Street Journal “There is no denying that MindSpring’s ads are different.”
Perhaps more interesting than the ads themselves is the backstory.
After years of marching down the road of proving that an ISP could be profitable we started getting pressure from the financial community to grow faster. Profits be damned, go grow they said. We decided to listen and I was tasked with coming up with a marketing plan to get us from 1.2 million to 2 million subscribers in short order. That plan turned into a $90 million marketing budget and increased our marketing spend from about 15% of revenue to something in the 40% range. Losing money is a lot easier than making it. And I am going to tell you ramping up marketing spend efficiently and effectively is a lot harder to do than people think. Doing it in six months is uber hard.
But did it we did. The marketing campaign launched on Labor Day accompanied by a 3/4 page profile on the front of the Marketplace section of The Wall Street Journal. The television ads were just a small part of a much larger integrated campaign that included PR (hence the article), lots of direct marketing, and a new product launch. If I start naming names I am sure to leave out someone but Alex Kaminsky, Erika Brookes, and Kirsten Witt were instrumental in making this all happen.
The big footnote to these ads is at the time we were in a fierce battle with AT&T and EarthLink to become the clear alternative to AOL. Stepping up our marketing was a clear signal to EarthLink that we were serious about winning. This ultimately led to EarthLink and MindSpring joining forces, a merger that was announced just two weeks after the launch of the campaign.