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Well, I have to admit that I didn't see this as part of newish AOL CEO Tim Armstrong's plan to reinvent his brand. In the December issue of Vanity Fair, AOL purchased TEN (10!) PAGES. The spread begins with an ode to creativity and proceeds through eight Chuck Close portraits of very big name stars (Alec Baldwin, Pharrell, Claire Danes) they call "AOL Originals." Here's basically the entirety of the text (with as much formatting as possible preserved).

Originality isn't easy.

Invention invites risk and skepticism.
Maybe that's why so few dare to be first,
and why it feels good to applaud those who are.

We have partnered with artist Chuck Close
to celebrate our loyal AOL users who have
helped shape the world, define our cultlure,
and have been part of our last 25 years.

As we embark on our next 25, we will continue
to champion technologies that amplify
the original voice in each of us, and give pioneers
everywhere a global platform for expression.

Creativity has an address.

AOL. 25 Years.

First announced in May, the Close portraits are actually great. We liked them so much that we're officially requesting a CD-ROM with 1,000 free hours of service so that we can check out this AOL thing!

More seriously, I'm shocked that AOL would make this kind of branding buy in a Conde Nast title like Vanity Fair. What, exactly, does AOL want a Vanity Fair reader to do when they read about all these AOL originals?

Thanks to our own Nick Jackson, inveterate magazine consumer, for spotting this incredible buy. And to National Channel producer Becca Greenfield for her willingness to be photographed holding a magazine in front of her face.