Freeserve reverts to Wanadoo plans

Freeserve, the UK's biggest internet service provider, is set for a major U-turn as it finalises plans to rebrand under the name of its French parent, Wanadoo.

At the same time, the firm, left without a flagship retail presence when it was ditched by former owner Dixons Stores Group two months ago, has struck a deal with Argos. The agreement will initially give it distribution in more than 150 stores.

A £30m rebranding of Freeserve to Wanadoo has been on the ISP's agenda since last summer, but was thought to have been shelved earlier this year amid concerns that Wanadoo lacked consumer awareness in the UK.

However, Freeserve has hired Thistle Hotels marketer Natasha Skunca as brand manager, with a brief that is understood to include co-ordinating the rebrand. Skunca, who was brand manager for Thistle, reports to marketing and communications director Kirsten Ford.

Freeserve has recently begun to include references to its relationship with Wanadoo in its marketing activity.

Sources said this has increased awareness of the Wanadoo brand and that Freeserve bosses are confident that the brand will work in the UK. A Freeserve spokeswoman refused to officially confirm the change but admitted that "a rebrand is constantly under review".

It is thought that Freeserve's 2.6 million UK customers will be able to keep their e-mail addresses despite the rebrand, which could take place early next year.

The deal with Argos, which starts this week, gives the ISP another channel to promote the brand. Point-of-sale material and ads will communicate Freeserve's availability in one of the UK's biggest retailers.

Although Freeserve is distributed through Texaco, Lloydspharmacy and Littlewoods, the Argos tie-up is a boost because of the retailer's presence in the electrical goods market.

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