Its Back to the Customer for AOL

AOL launched a multi-million-dollar AOL 8.0 marketing campaign today.

NEW YORK—America Online is returning to its customer-centric roots, trumpeted company executives who kicked off the start of a multi-million-dollar AOL 8.0 marketing campaign here on Tuesday.

"Watch out Bill Gates and Microsoft. Here we come," quipped Richard Parsons, CEO of AOL Time Warner, to rousing audience applause.

Microsoft is slated to launch its rival next-generation Internet-access service, MSN 8, in New Yorks Central Park next week.

AOL made its version 8.0 product available to existing members for download starting last week. As of today, company officials said that 1.7 million members have downloaded AOL 8.0. AOL also began distributing version 8.0 disks today at more than 660 chains nationwide, including Target, Circuit City, Blockbuster, various grocery and convenience stories and even at U.S. Post Offices.

According to AOL, the 8.0 release sports more than 100 new and enhanced features, including new e-mail filtering, parental controls, screen-customization and call-waiting capabilities.

Parsons told hundreds of AOL employees, invited AOL community and forum leaders, press and other guests at the Lincoln Center kick-off that "the real stars are you—the people who have been AOL members and subscribers for years."

"Sometimes success can be your own undoing," Parsons acknowledged, without elaborating further. He added that the company is using the AOL 8.0 launch as a "symbolic representation to a return to focus on the members."

Parsons wasnt the only member of the AOL brass who addressed the invitees. AOL Time Warner Chairman Steve Case, America Online Chairman and CEO Jon Miller, and even a surprise guest—Ted Turner, head of the AOL-Time-Warner-owned Turner Broadcasting Corp.—offered up remarks. AOL lined up a number of media stars, as well, including comedian Dana Carvey and musicians Alanis Morisette and Laura Pausini, to participate in its launch party.