Earthlink, Mindspring, And The Fall Of A Great Brand

Today’s news that Earthlink is laying off 900 people, or half its staff, is kind of shocking, but I suppose I really shouldn’t be surprised.
I signed up for Mindspring dial-up service in January 1995. I was living in Atlanta and they were based here. They had a set of “core values” that impressed me–and they lived up to them. When I signed up for service, they overnighted me the startup kit and free book. But they sent me the PC version instead of the Mac. When I called to tell them, they then promptly overnighted the Mac version. Mindspring was known in the late 90’s for outstanding customer service and an admirable corporate culture.
Then Earthlink bought out Mindspring. But I stuck with them. Through 7 cities, mailing addresses, and phone numbers, I’ve kept the same email address for almost 13 years. Reading through the comments in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution story, I discovered I’m not the only one who still has an old-school email address.
Now, even though I live 10 minutes from Earthlink’s headquarters, every time it thunders or rains around here my DSL connection gets dropped. Their customer service was outsourced to India long ago, and trying to get them to investigate my plight is always a lost cause. They’ll send me a $5 Starbucks gift certificate every now and then to keep me happy, which is nice. However, every week I get some junk mail or spam trying to get me to buy a Helio or add their VoIP service, but I wouldn’t dare get any more service than I have from them since the DSL line is so unreliable.
It’s sad. I’ve been a loyal customer, and I’m watching this company sink. I may finally try, over the next several months, to wean myself off the email address I’ve had for 12 years.
Any marketers at a struggling brand, or the agency people working on a struggling brand, should read the AJC story and the nearly unanimous comments that follow–comments from once-loyal hometown brand advocates. Earthlink is a great case study. Their corporate culture isn’t what it used to be. Their service isn’t what it used to be. Their brand isn’t what it used to be. Marketing and advertising can’t fix the problems Earthlink has right now.



About Dan Goldgeier

Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. Dan is also a columnist for and the author of View From The Cheap Seats and Killer Executions and Scrubbed Decks.