NEW YORK — Love was in the air, briefly, Thursday when an Advertising Week audience here heard salacious talk that Internet stalwart AOL might soon tie the knot with Yahoo.
But alas, like so many rumors, the marriage plans were forcefully denied — this time by AOL Chairman and CEO Tim Armstrong.
Armstrong was chatting onstage with Maurice Lévy, chairman and chief executive of Publicis Groupe, when Lévy asked the question that was on everyone's mind: How was Armstgrong's wife, Nancy, "reacting to the love story with Marissa" — as in Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo.
Last week, the hedge fund Starboard Value released a letter to Mayer and Yahoo's board of directors notifying them that it had bought a significant stake in Yahoo and wanted it to enter into a strategic deal with AOL.
Armstrong, who had previously worked with Mayer at Google, humored Lévy’s question. He said the last time he saw her was at Allen & Co.'s annual media conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, where they spoke about raising their respective children.
Lévy then pushed Armstrong and said: Tell us, are you going to merge or not?" To which Armstrong referenced reports that the speculation about AOL was just a "sideshow" to questions about Yahoo’s strategy for future growth.
"I haven’t given it much thought to it," Armstrong said. "We are super-busy doing what we’re doing, and we’re really excited about it. There’s been a lot of press speculation about it, but in what we spend our time doing every day it is not a factor at all."
Since Armstrong took charge of AOL in 2009, the year it was spun off from Time Warner, the company has invested heavily in content, including developing video and buying Huffington Post in 2011 for $315 million.
Mayer joined Yahoo as chief executive in 2012 but has come under increasing pressure to clearly define the company’s strategy, particularly after last month's successful IPO of Alibaba, in which Yahoo had a significant stake.