Oath CMO Allie Kline on shaking off a rocky rebranding, and more

Oath's CMO talks to Diana Bradley about how the company got through its widely mocked rebrand and plans for 2018

When the news came out earlier this year that Verizon was moving Yahoo and AOL under the new name Oath, the rebrand was mocked by social media users and news outlets. How did you contend with that?
The news was leaked. We knew when we chose a values-based brand, it would need context out of the gate for people to understand our intent. When you put your heart and soul into something and so many people around you do the same, there is a sting when you lose the right to announce it the way you intended. Within hours we had websites up, we had our CEO on eight different broadcast outlets, and we were doing press interviews. We went on offense.

Oath launched its first campaign, #BuildYourBrand, in September. Can you talk about its aim and any results you have already seen?
The campaign was designed to create awareness around what is in the Oath house of brands and our deep commitment to building brands people love. When you look at Yahoo as a brand, pre-close, and AOL as a brand, pre-close, both had assets that didn’t share the company name. Yahoo had Tumblr, Flickr, and Flurry. AOL had HuffPost, TechCrunch, and others. Both companies were known by their namesake assets. Even people in Washington, DC, that know HuffPost so well didn’t know it was part of the same family as AOL. Same with Yahoo and Tumblr.

How did the leak of Oath affect the launch campaign?
It completely upended it. The leak meant we had to find unique ways to provide that context in a different way than we originally intended. It also meant we had an opportunity to educate employees working at both companies at the time on the name and tell the story about what we wanted to stand for as a go-forward company, presuming the close would happen. Our clients also had that same opportunity. In hindsight, the leak worked to our advantage, so thank you, leaker, whoever you are.

In early November, Oath launched a global Board of Advisors comprised of Serena Williams, Russell Wilson, Tamika Catchings, Ciara, Chuck D, Rickie Fowler, Carla Harris, Karlie Kloss, Joey Logano, Zac Posen, Abby Wambach, and Regina Wilson. How did you go about picking the members?
We picked people who were passionate brand builders in their own category and field. People who have been uniquely focused on building their brand not just within the domain in which they work, play, or entertain. Williams is committed to causes. Harris is focused on making an impact in the world beyond finance. Russell Wilson is outspoken on key issues and curious about entrepreneurship. We wanted people who were extremely diverse with their interests and opinionated about what makes brands great and how to get consumers to connect with them. We have big vertical categories important to us in terms of sports, news, entertainment, finance, and tech. We wanted people who would be insightful for us and help us grow those assets, which would in turn help them grow their own personal and charitable brands.

What is your main focus and objective?
Leadership across our team. People believe we have been together as two companies much longer than we have. In reality, [as of November] we are four months into this integration. The second objective is how we are telling our story in all the markets we play in. Are brands telling brand-specific stories to their consumers? Are we doing a great job of telling our story to advertisers, corporate partners, and employees, and getting them engaged? How can our teams contribute to overall company goals with a particular focus on growing our mobile audiences throughout the world and scaling our business more globally?

What PR or marketing campaigns are you currently working on?
We have large campaigns running for consumer brands such as Yahoo Sports, Yahoo Finance, and the HuffPost, which just finished a U.S. listening tour where they went into smaller markets around the country. We are doing partnership marketing on the citizenship side. We started with Hand in Hand: A Benefit for Hurricane Harvey Relief, continued with investment in what happened in Charlottesville around hate, and participated in November in a big event in San Francisco to celebrate all the communities are doing to rebound from the fires in Northern California. We are looking at what is happening around our brands and employees and are leaning in from a marketing perspective.

Can you share plans for 2018?
You will see us lean heavily into music in 2018 from an Oath, B2B, and corporate brand standpoint. You will see partnership marketing we do around our consumer brands. Growing a mobile audience is our single largest priority. We are innovating from a mobile advertising perspective and leveraging that innovation to grow our own brand, including our corporate brand.

How many people handle marketing and comms at Oath?
Just under 300 people.

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