Media: All about ... Yahoo!'s relaunch

Will a brand revamp help Yahoo! retain its relevance, Alasdair Reid asks.

How brave of Yahoo!, in its latest marketing campaign, to stand a classic break-up line on its head. Some of us at Campaign have become so practised in the "It's not you, it's me" routine that we can sort of look sincere while we're mumbling it - while still catching the waitress' eye and miming our request for the bill.

Yahoo! clearly has no time for such self-indulgence. "It's Y!ou," the slogan screams in its new $100 million global campaign, by Ogilvy Advertising, unveiled last week. (And how brave to fracture this whole exercise by whanging that exclamation mark in where it hurts. This is clearly marketing gold.)

So it's no surprise to find that affairs of the heart and memories of painful yearning have been top of mind where Yahoo!'s chief executive, Carol Bartz, is concerned. In commending the new campaign to reporters at a press conference last week, she insisted that Yahoo!, despite recent suggestions to the contrary, still had pulling power. "When you get out of New York City and Silicon Valley, everybody loves Yahoo!," she insisted.

To the daydreaming hacks at the back of the hall, this assertion came dangerously close to evoking some sort of mythic road-based exploration of the American Dream, pithily redolent, say, of the narrative curve of Gene Pitney's classic 24 Hours From Tulsa.

But you take her point. Bartz claims Yahoo! is used by almost 600 million people around the world. During August in the UK alone, more than 20 million people visited the site at some point. That's about one-third of the population.

Raw numbers, though, are clearly not enough - and the "It's Y!ou" campaign coincides with a revamp that embraces aesthetics (in terms of the look, especially, of the homepage) and deeper structural issues. It's designed (forgetting our earlier flippancy for a moment) to make life easier for Y!ou - if Y!ou happen to be a Yahoo! user.

The philosophy is to "align brand and product strategy around users' experiences" and, in a release from Yahoo!'s headquarters in Sunnyvale, California, the corporate babble continues: "Yahoo! Inc is asserting its place at the centre of people's online lives by realigning all aspects of its business around simplifying and enhancing the web experience for people throughout the world."

1. Along with AOL and MSN, Yahoo! was one of the most important pioneer web brands of the 90s. Users valued it for its easy-to-use web directory service (genuine search didn't exist before Google started gaining mass-market traction around the turn of the century) and would often adopt a Yahoo! e-mail address in preference to the offerings of their internet service providers.

2. Although Yahoo! survived the dotcom crash in relatively fine fettle, it suffered disproportionately from the inexorable rise of Google. 2004 was a milestone year: Yahoo! stopped using Google search technology and redoubled its efforts to develop a competitive product; meanwhile, the successful launch of Gmail confirmed its competitor's new ascendancy across a number of internet-based services.

3. Microsoft first opened merger talks with Yahoo! in 2005 but nothing conclusive emerged until February 2008, when Yahoo!'s then chief executive (and co-founder), Jerry Yang, rejected a friendly offer. Microsoft then waded in with a hostile takeover bid. Yang fought a rearguard action to fend this off - which he appeared to have done by May, when Microsoft indicated it intended to back away. But by November, a new deal was on the table - and Yahoo! agreed to sell its search technology to Microsoft for $20 billion.

4. Yang announced his departure in November 2008, following shareholder pressure. He was succeeded in January 2009 by Bartz, who instigated a new strategic focus, concentrating on growing display advertising revenues on Yahoo!'s portal business.

5. In July 2009, Yahoo! unveiled a ten-year deal to use Microsoft's new Bing product as its search engine technology on all its sites.

6. The Yahoo! redesign features icons clearly inspired by the onscreen visual style of the Apple iPhone. Rolling over these icons blows up bubbles previewing deeper content - and they offer quick access to news services (lifted from newspapers) and social networking applications.



- Carol Bartz tends to have analysts lobbing rocks at her every time she pokes her head above the parapet - their beef is that she hasn't developed a killer strategy for the post-Jerry Yang, post-search Yahoo!.

- They question whether design tweaks, however pretty (and however well supported by marketing activity), have any relevance when the whole notion of the portal may soon be outmoded. These days, most people surely go straight to their favourite news, gossip and social networking sites, rather than wasting time accessing them via some sort of a generic portal.

- That's the wrong way to look at it, Neil Ramsden, an account director at Profero, argues. He says: "I think the Yahoo! redesign reflects how people want to use the internet these days - bringing all the stuff they want on to a rich content homepage. This will help Yahoo! increase its audience and increase dwell times - all of which is good news from an advertising point of view."

- Nick Suckley, the managing partner at Agenda21, agrees: "This redesign makes it easier for people to find the content they want - by, in effect, bringing it all to them in one place. I think that genuinely reflects the way people think about the web in 2009."


- There are rumours that Yahoo!, having copied the iPhone look, will soon pursue an iPhone-type philosophy too - and invite third-party apps into the site. That will interest many advertisers and could become an important revenue stream.


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