After 20 Years, AOL’s Yellow Running Man Has Retired

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It’s officially the end of a tech era: AOL Instant Messenger will be discontinued on Friday December 15, 2017. While fans that that grew up with or ever used AIM will be in mourning over the chat app’s shutdown, some might wonder whatever happened to its iconic yellow Running Man mascot who remained our ever-faithful Buddy List companion. Will he be going down with this ship too?

As it turns out, the running man is heading for retirement after 20 years of service. Michael Albers, VP of Communications Product at Oath, confirmed the character’s retirement announcement in a blog post from October 2017.

For those who don’t know much about the mascot’s past, let’s get you up to speed with the CliffNotes guide to the Running Man. JoRoan Lazaro designed him in the 1990s as part of a redesign effort for AOL’s software and content channels. Lazaro, now Executive Creative Director at BBH New York, shared the story behind the character’s creation in an interview with The Atlantic in 2014.

According to Lazaro, silhouettes in 1940s and 1950s postwar American logos and trademarks inspired the Running Man’s design. The men in these silhouettes were stylized by their curved legs and round heads. Lazaro kept the design as simplified as possible, due to resolutions on computers not being very good at the time, and the color scheme a warm and friendly shade of yellow.

Due to AOL moving quickly as a company during that time, the Running Man skipped focus group testing and was immediately used for AIM. “It was a very organic thing that just sort of evolved and pretty soon he was just attached to the brand.” Lazaro said.

One of the Running Man’s most memorable moments occurred in an AOL commercial with Sharon Stone. In this spot, he is quite obviously… hooking up her new broadband Internet, of course. The mascot got a pair of cool sunglasses out of it too.

The Running Man was replaced in 2011 by a new logo with “OMG since 1997” as the tagline. Luckily, his hiatus was short-lived and he made his triumphant, nostalgic return in 2013.

Happy retirement, buddy. We’ll always remember how you kept us on alert anytime “you’ve got mail.”

Heather Taylor

Icon Researcher & Blogger at Advertising Week
Heather Taylor

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