Yahoo's $100 Million Self-Esteem Fix

Last Updated Sep 23, 2009 2:24 PM EDT

Yahoo's new $100 million advertising blitz is enough to make some people yearn for the good old chaotic days under co-founder Jerry Yang.

Whether the multi-media marketing drive to convince consumers and advertisers that Yahoo is still relevant has a constructive impact on the beleaguered Internet company remains to be seen. But it appears the global 15-month campaign -- the brainchild of new CEO Carol Bartz -- has been designed as much to convince Yahoo of its own worth.

"The Internet company's new tagline, 'It's You,' with Yahoo's classic exclamation point stuck between the 'Y'and the 'ou,' is intended to echo changes in its leading products, like its home page, mail and search services, which have become easier to personalize," is how the NYT explains the cleaver play on words.

Despite all the prime attention surrounding the campaign kickoff Tuesday during the Interactive Advertising Bureau sessions of New York's Advertising Week, Yahoo could save itself some money by simply executing on rather than touting its user connections. Elisa Steele, Yahoo's chief marketing officer, previewed some of the bells and whistles that allow users to buzz, flirt, whine and wander better than anywhere else on the Web. "Our vision is to be at the center of people's online lives," Steele said. Sounds like the same pitch coming from as Google, AOL, Facebook and others out to rule cyberspace.

The response to the grandiose re-branding solution -- a fix for what Bartz perceives as Yahoo's image problem -- has been mixed. Accurate or not, TechCrunch blogger Michael Arrington complained that it's time to bring back Jerry and his warrior Yahoos.

"Do I really want Yahoo to bring Jerry Yang back? No, not really. He loves the company but he certainly wasn't the leader Yahoo needed. His tenure as CEO was a sad affair. But he did have passion for the product, something Bartz lacks," Arrington writes.

Hindsight is cheap and easy.

This week, CitiGroup Internet analyst Mark Mahaney declared there is "clear evidence" of search and display ad recovery that should benefit Yahoo as much as Google, although Yahoo's best hand is its 40 percent stake in sky-rocketing Alibaba Group as well as interests in Yahoo Japan, which collectively comprise about half of its market cap.

The operational efficiencies and cost cuts Bartz has executed in his first months will be a focal point of Yahoo's Oct. 28 Investors Day -- its first in three years.

Mahaney and other industry analysts acknowledge the new services and features including revamped search but are uncertain what new value they ultimately will generate even with the aid of partnerships with Microsoft and others. Based on its lagging financials, Yahoo trades at a discount to other large cap Internet and traditional media companies.

Unless Yahoo can substantively grow its share of Internet usage, which has been stagnant for the past three years that the likes of Google and Facebook flourished, nothing else can change -- with or without the $100 million rebranding campaign. Just ask MySpace.

  • Diane Mermigas

    Diane Mermigas has been a contributing editor and columnist at Mediapost, The Hollywood Reporter and Crain Communications as well as writing for such sites as Seeking Alpha, TrueSlant and BNET. In addition to speaking and television appearances, Diane consults with companies in digital transition, and is completing a book on the future of media.