Kara Swisher

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Yahoo Tries to Recover From "It's Y!ou" Ad Disaster by Attacking Google's One Box (This Is Going to End in Tears)

Say it ain’t you, Yahoo.

And yet, here’s one of the major new conceptual directions of the troubled Internet giant’s next pricey marketing campaign, aimed at recovering from its first advertising foray, which is widely considered a failure: A full frontal attack on search leader Google.

BoomTown posted several weeks ago that the new effort was being rolled out.

And now it’s here–and, in part, it’s an odd attempt to mock the simple and elegant white box that allowed Google (GOOG) to steal Yahoo’s thunder many years back, as well as lightning and any other weather system worth owning.

“There’s nothing to look at but a box and a button,” says the voice-over in the Yahoo (YHOO) marketing video–which you can see below–about an unnamed, but obvious, Web site. “When you look at this homepage nothing looks back at you. You come to this place so you can leave.”

Well, yes! Because it’s a search page!

No matter, according to Yahoo, which remains intent on pushing the idea of being “the center of your online life.”

Which has, of course, increasingly become Facebook. The social networking giant has done exactly zero advertising to get its 500 million users and has been steadily surpassing Yahoo in a number of key consumer metrics.

In fact, Facebook is Yahoo’s true nemesis, although the new ads push Facebook, as well as Twitter, in order to focus on Yahoo as the place to interact with a lot of different sites and services in one place.

“Today we are excited to preview the next phase of the Yahoo! marketing campaign, showcasing the amazing content and experiences people can find only with Yahoo!. We want people to experience first-hand how Yahoo! is the place where all the things, people, experiences, information–everything you care about–come together,” said Yahoo marketing head Elisa Steele in a blog post on the company’s Yodel Anecdotal blog tonight. “It’s a place that gets to know you, a place that surprises you. And we’ll demonstrate it by letting you sample the products, see them in action and have experiential encounters.”

Well, at least that sounds better than the willfully vague $100 million campaign Steele launched with noisy fanfare last fall with the motto: “It’s Y!ou.”

Yahoo never really answered what exactly “you” was, which is why CEO Carol Bartz finally admitted to a group of reporters in March that the effort “didn’t have a really good call to action.”

Actually, it had none and–more important–did not increase traffic in the key U.S. market (as you can see in the chart), although Yahoo execs tried mightily to spin it as successful in some international markets and as an opening effort to revive the tarnished brand.

A pretty pricey effort it was, causing Yahoo to pretty much dump the WPP Group (WPPGY) ad agency, Ogilvy & Mather, and hire Omnicom Group (OMC) unit Goodby Silverstein & Partners for the new work.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal tonight, Yahoo will spend $75 million to $85 million on the renewed multimedia campaign, although it seems to be part of the original outlay of $100 million.

The Journal said there was a new slogan: “Your favorite stuff all in one place. Make Yahoo your home page.”

The more specific effort will show off partners that Yahoo has been integrating into the service, as well as its own properties.

And as it turns out, that’s why the “It’s You” tagline is remaining, with a spate of efforts to make it more specific and product-centric.

According to the article in the Journal, there will be a lot of marketing gimmicks, such as kiosks, giant Apple (AAPL) iPhones with a huge Yahoo search app, and photo booths.

While that is all well and good, Yahoo’s key issue–besides its talent brain drain–remains its lack of new and innovative products, which are being pumped out aggressively by Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft (MSFT) and, yes, Google.

At least we now know why Bartz took aim at Google’s search business model in a BBC interview recently, noting it was one-note.

As Yahoo is now trying to paint Google’s main product offering in its new marketing materials and, presumably, its upcoming ad campaign.

But, in fact, touting its simple search box on its own, Google spent very little on its utterly charming “Parisian Love” commercial, which aired during the Super Bowl and scored off the charts in a number of surveys.

It’s about exactly how useful one box can be.

Compare that Google marketing video with Yahoo’s effort below and decide for yourself which marketing material works better:

Here are more new Yahoo ad examples:

And here is the full text of Steele’s blog:

A Sneak Peek of Exciting & Fresh Stuff from Yahoo!

Posted May 5th, 2010 at 7:11 pm by Yahoo!, Blog Editors

Odds are that sometime in the last six months you have experienced the Yahoo! “It’s You!” campaign somewhere in your world: reading the news you crave every day, during your favorite television show, searching on why lady bugs have spots, on the side of the bus you take to work. Our goal with this campaign was to make a connection with our hundreds of millions of users over the world and have fun with your favorite stuff, all in one place!

Today we are excited to preview the next phase of the Yahoo! marketing campaign, showcasing the amazing content and experiences people can find only with Yahoo!. We want people to experience first-hand how Yahoo! is the place where all the things, people, experiences, information–everything you care about–come together. It’s a place that gets to know you, a place that surprises you. And well demonstrate it by letting you sample the products, see them in action and have experiential encounters.

Keep in mind, this is just a sneak peek into the fun ideas and experiences we are dreaming up. Starting May 18th and throughout the year, you will begin to see finished new elements of the campaign, with many fun surprises across the Y! network, web and within venues such a cinemas, television and even in the air (on planes!).

The Yahoo! marketing campaign will show users how to tap into Yahoo’s industry-leading products and make the Internet far more personally relevant. Starting a band? Yahoo! Search–a smarter, more personal search, will help you find the gear, gigs and guitar heroes you need to rock out.

Going to the movies? Yahoo! can entertain and enhance the cinema experience. Starting in the lobby before the movie starts, we will showcase Yahoo! products and properties through interactive panels. Using the new Sketch-a-Search app we can help you find a restaurant for after the movie. At the start of the film, we’ll integrate Yahoo! Search into the movie trailers, simulating a Search Wow Module.

At 30,000 feet, Yahoo! will make it fun to travel. As passengers relax on airline flights, we entertain by showing how Yahoo! brings my world and the world together through our creative campaign and tailored Yahoo! content. Each flight will feature our full video campaign, and depending on the flight and time, Yahoo! content such as Funny or Die and other pieces of Yahoo! entertainment.

Keep track of the highest bid on a vintage skateboard on eBay, share your latest photos showing you landing that kickflip on Flickr and find out who’s dating who on Facebook–all from the comfort of your Yahoo! Homepage.

We can’t wait to share the new campaign where you spend a lot of your time- online. While scrolling through the “live” images you can add all your favorite items to your Yahoo! homepage. Making it relevant and personal.

So the next time you hop on a plane, check your email or go to the movies. Yahoo! can bring YOUR world and THE world together in one convenient place–wherever you are.

Elisa Steele, Yahoo! EVP & Chief Marketing Officer

Please see this disclosure related to me and Google.


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus