Yahoo places its bets on corporate branding

Yahoo unveiled a $100-million-plus branding campaign that puts the emphasis on the consumer experience with its site in a bid to increase its audience and reconnect its brand with users.

This week Yahoo unveiled a $100-million-plus branding campaign that puts the emphasis on the consumer experience with its site in a bid to increase its audience and reconnect its brand with users. The initiative will roll out in the US on Monday, September 28. It carries the tagline, “It's Y!ou,” and messages like “The Internet is under new management. Yours.”

Laura Martin, senior media analyst at Soleil Securities, says the campaign demonstrates Yahoo's confidence and “is another data point suggesting [Yahoo CEO] Carol Bartz is now turning her attention to establishing Yahoo's dominance in its core properties.”

But some communicators question the decision to invest so heavily in a branding campaign when the brand is already well-known. “It strikes me as off the mark,” says Bob Pearson, chief technology and media officer at WeissComm Group, and the former VP of communities and conversations at Dell. “Great content and excellent experience build circulation, not ads. If they said they were going to spend $100 million to improve customer experience, I'd say that's great.”

Morgan McLintic, EVP, US and APAC, Lewis PR, says that Yahoo is clearly trying to make itself “relevant again to consumers and advertisers” after the “corporate story has clouded their image a bit.”

“If companies advertise to compensate for their biggest insecurity, then the ‘Y!ou' campaign suggests Yahoo is concerned it has drifted away from being relevant to customers' lives,” he adds, but notes the company is still the third most popular Web site in the world.

While discussing the new campaign at the IAB MIXX conference during Advertising Week in New York, Elisa Steele, Bartz's handpicked CMO, emphasized that the campaign would be “multichannel,” but the specific communications and PR components of it were not immediately known. Eric Brown, Yahoo's new head of communications, did not present alongside the company's other executives at the press conference and was not immediately available for further comment.

Steele did note that “a big viral and participant component for consumers” will also be revealed.

“Why not actually spend more in the online world talking to influencers, building additional communities?” counters Pearson. “I think telling people about Yahoo… people already kind of get that. If the ads bring to life the cool applications in Yahoo, that's certainly a good thing.”

McLintic points out the campaign is likely to be just “part of the mix” as Yahoo works to “reset expectations.”

Yahoo enjoys an enormous audience that appeals to advertisers and helps drive traffic for partners, but it has struggled recently to gain its footing in a competitive marketplace. After an unsolicited takeover offer by Microsoft last year, and posting its first quarterly loss since 2002 in January when the effects of the recession took hold, Bartz, as the new CEO, has been on the defensive.

She noted the need to woo the company's various stakeholders going forward and to shore up its leading position in the display ad market, which has been battered by the global recession as marketers pulled back on spending. Google, which dominates the overall Internet advertising market, is threatening further encroachment with a new ad-exchange network.

“It's our job to impress our users, our advertising partners, the press, our investors,” she said at the conference, noting that the campaign will help build its “circulation” and that “advertisers follow consumers.”

The 15-month global campaign for the company will target a number of markets, including the UK, India, Brazil, Canada, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Korea, and Taiwan. Steele said it would start with an emphasis on the Yahoo brand, but later shift into putting its products more center stage.

Yahoo has been rolling out a number of tweaks to its user interface in the past two months, including third-party integration on the homepage and new search features.

Landor Associates is aiding the branding campaign, while Ogilvy & Mather produced the creative. OutCast Communications is assisting on PR components, including helping with Tuesday's press conference and other media relations.

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