America Online’s new advertising sales supremo Lisa Brown moved into classical Latin mode this week, crying Pax, waving an olive branch and telling advertisers and agencies: “We have said the mea culpas.”

Brown, clad in sackcloth and ashes, trod the path of penitence blazed by her predecessor Robert Sherman, who whiled away his last eighteen months at AOL apologizing to advertisers for the ISP’s arrogant and aggressive sales tactics during the late-90s internet bonanza.

"We take that blame,” conceded Brown when answering questions at a conference sponsored by the US Interactive Advertising Bureau. Asked about ill-will between AOL, ad agencies and advertisers, she conceded that some of her employers’ previous crowbar tactics had “caused buyer’s remorse”

Such remorse had been a major contributor to the Niagara-like outflow of AOL ad revenues, down 42% in 2002 to $1.32 billion, with a further decline of 50% expected this year.

Sweet is the taste of contrition from a fallen giant. “We’re hearing that the world has changed," crowed Derek Hewitt, former vp of interactive marketing at Philips Electronics, now president of iMedia Learning.

He recounted the time back in 2001 when he negotiated an online ad deal with AOL worth “close to $100m”. Recalled Hewitt: “At that time, AOL was saying, ‘We are the biggest. You must have us. You have no choice’.” Baring his scars, he added: “We fought to the death.”

Brown then switched her stance from penitent to positive, citing AOL’s attempts to enhance its advertiser appeal, the standardization of ad sizes and the addition of audio and video to ads.

When she joined the company in November, said Brown, the ISP lagged well behind its competitors being unable to offer rich media facilities – an omission now rectified.

Brown also urged online publishers to work together toward a common goal of taking market share from other media, such as television and newspapers. “We have plenty of time to steal share from each other,” she said, “but we’d do better to steal share from the other guys and they’re ripe for it.”

Data sourced from: (USA); additional content by WARC staff