Branding Déjà Vu: Dissecting Yahoo’s Floundering Re-Branding Campaign (Sundance, Really?)

By Jose Palomino, President, Value Prop Interactive

Do you Yahoo? If the numbers are any indication, then you probably don’t—you’ve probably taken your search to Google, your social interaction to Facebook, and your entertainment to YouTube. Over the last few years, Yahoo has been floundering to find its consumer identity, to say the least.

Enter in new CEO Scott Thompson (former executive of PayPal) to save the day. His previous experiences make him an odd choice for a company turnaround: He’s been a product manager instead of a media executive, he helped a small business become a big business (instead of turning around a flagging business), and he unabashedly confessed to knowing barely anything about advertising. And yet he is the chosen one to relaunch the suffering search engine company—he is the one responsible for branding Yahoo with a new identity.

And what will that identity be, exactly?

It’s hard to say exactly, but Yahoo seems to be focusing its efforts on online entertainment. The close of 2011 brought announcements of partnerships with Bill Maher and Funny or Die comedic videos, as well as launching original video content. A few days ago, Yahoo also reported their sponsorship of the Sundance Festival—mainly by partnering with the festival to air 12 short films on their website.

So judging from the recent press releases, I gather Yahoo is re-branding itself as… an online media giant?  …a social-networking culture hub?  …a generally cool and relevant? Or… what? To be honest, I can’t really make heads or tails of their re-branding scheme, and I think that’s a problem. There’s no clear indication of the direction the company is heading in, and I’m fairly certain the audience they’re attempting to reach out to (the young, hip, YouTube generation, I presume?) won’t be taking this (vaguely positioned) bait.

And not to beat a dead horse, but doesn’t this seem all-too-familiar? A little too much like Yahoo re-branding déjà vu?

Need I remind everyone of former Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz—who, with her ascent to executive power, brought a massive re-branding campaign to Yahoo in 2009? The Y!ou campaign sought to humanize the company—playing off of the rise of me-centric Internet browsing (made popular—or perhaps invented—by Facebook). This campaign made more sense than its current one: It was streamlined, seemed relevant, and was bound to work.

Except it didn’t.

So why does Yahoo! think their current re-branding efforts will work? What’s the difference? If they’re hoping for a new audience from the Sundance folks, they’re probably out of luck.

YouTube partnered with Sundance only two years ago—allowing viewers to watch full-length Sundance films on streaming during the festival events. The films chosen were obscure, the audience drawn in was smaller than anticipated, and YouTube has chosen not to partner again with Sundance in this way. If YouTube—an Internet giant with branding built on online videos—couldn’t snag the hipster Sundance audience, how will Yahoo attempt this feat? Unless Yahoo has some blockbuster short films up their sleeve (does such a thing exist?), it seems doubtful that the Sundance partnership will do much, if anything, to turn the company around.

Yahoo keeps missing the mark on re-branding because they are failing to capitalize on their current strengths. The fact is that they still get 700 million visitors each month as an online leader in news and sports. They should make efforts to become innovators in the world of online news—to re-brand themselves as a “trusted online news source.” They should attempt to cater to their current audience—to offer specialized sports programming, such as the UFC (which, with 50% of their audience between the ages of  21 and 34, is just the type of demographic Yahoo seems to be coveting). Instead of focusing on completely changing their identity, Yahoo should stick to what they’re doing and bump it up a notch.

Attempting to copy Facebook and YouTube (or trying to make a new hybrid) is not smart re-branding. The mistake here is that their overhaul will leave people scratching their heads, wondering why exactly they should even consider using Yahoo in the first place.

Listen, I’m interested to see how this all plays out. Maybe there will be a sudden resurgence of loyalty for Yahoo, but it doesn’t seem likely. And until we see a miraculous turnaround for the company, I think there a few re-branding lessons we can take away from this whole situation:

  • Innovate—Don’t Copy: Facebook and YouTube became Internet giants because they offered something new to the Internet consumer. The reality is that, for the time being, they are ahead of their game. Unless your company can offer something new to these audiences, don’t attempt to become a copycat. Instead, find a new way to deliver what your company has to offer. Simplify it, humanize it, and streamline it.
  • Know and Capitalize on Your Strengths: Yahoo has an audience through its news and sports offerings, and yet they seem to be ignoring this strength staring them in the face. The only justification (if you can call it that) for this is that they must not realize their strength in this area. Don’t follow suit. Figure out who your audience is, what they want, and then give it to them—pronto!
  • Make Re-branding Clear: Let’s say you’ve come to the conclusion that you must make an overhaul to your company’s branding. Fine, but make it clear. Don’t be vague, and don’t be irrelevant. Re-market your brand in such a way that anyone who sees your company’s logo will know exactly why they need you.

What do you think of Yahoo’s recent re-branding strategy? How would you re-brand the company? Let us know in the comments below.


About The Author: Jose Palomino is the author of the well received book, “Value Prop – Create Powerful I3 Value Propositions to Enter and Win New Markets,” which is at the heart of Value Prop Interactive, and the Value Prop Accelerator™. As president of Value Prop Interactive (, Jose has a strong track record of success working with business owners, mid-market CEOs and Fortune 1000 marketing teams who want to take ideas, products and services to market with greater consistency, speed and impact. Learn more at

Related Resources and Links:

New CEO – Yahoo Charts Independent Course – NY Times
PayPal Executive Named CEO of Yahoo – NY Times
Yahoo Seeks to Freshen Brand at Sundance
Yahoo Rebranding Itself as Comedy Channel – The Comic’s Comic
Did Yahoo Pick the Wrong CEO? – Yahoo News/Editorial
Big Yahoo Rebranding Campaign Starts (2009) – The Microsoft Blog
Yahoo Unveils Marketing Campaign (2009) – Media Post
Marketing Showcase – Sports Business Daily



1 Comment

  1. Sharon on January 18, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    Yahoo’s Beta Mail stinks! I’m not surprised that Yahoo is losing lots of folks. Just look at how they got rid of the more reliable and user-friendly Yahoo Classic Mail in favor of the unuser-friendly Yahoo Beta Mail! This Beta Mail is so bad that some of their paying customers are thinking about jumping ship. It seems that Yahoo doesn’t think we should have a choice to which type of mail is good for us. I guess they think we’re too stupid to choose for ourselves!