Peter Kafka

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Live From New York: Yahoo Introduces “You”

Unless I’m told otherwise, I’m only going to do this once. But for the record, Yahoo is going with the following spelling for its new slogan: “It Starts With Y!ou.” I don’t think that’s going to fly with consumers or copy editors, but we’ll see.

Also undetermined: Whether there will be any news unveiled at Yahoo’s press conference to roll out said slogan. But I’ll be here for you just in case. And in the meantime, you can find glimpses of the coming campaign at the bottom of this post.

The event begins: Boilerplate intro remarks from Yahoo (YHOO) CEO Carol Bartz, followed by CMO Elisa Steele. Steele shows off a Venn diagram that shows the intersection of “my world” and “the world.” Yahoo, apparently, is that intersection. “That’s where the yodel is.”

Steele reminds us that this is Yahoo’s first global marketing campaign. That’s old hat for Microsoft (MSFT) and something Google (GOOG) has never done. Ad campaigns will roll out in 10 countries, branding campaign will be in all territories.

Steele runs through some imagery that will be used in campaign. Yahoo users, apparently, comprise many races and creeds. But all of them are buff and/or skinny. Unless they’re pregnant. A video ad, meanwhile features an upgraded yodel.

OK. Time for Q&A:

Onstage: Bartz; Steele; EVP Hilary Schneider; Tapan Bhat, SVP Integrated Consumer Experiences; Penny Baldwin, SVP Global Integrated Marketing and Brand Management.

What’s the budget for the campaign?

Steele: “Over $100 million.”

Status of ad market? Also, what won’t you sell?

Schneider: Starting to see a stabilization. “Wouldn’t go so far as to say as we’re seeing a full recovery.”

Bartz: We’re still “bumping along the bottom.” Regarding sales, she dodges/reframes the question, talking about “focus” instead. “We’re just revisiting everything.” Is there anything you won’t sell? “Of course.” But no specifics. Will improve photo, video, “much, much better email.”

Please talk about the launch of Google Ad Exchange and its threat to you.

Schneider: “The reality is that the display marketplace is fragmented.” Our exchange (Right Media) is biggest, but it’s intuitive that there will be other exchanges. “We welcome Google.”

Why do a relaunch at all? Are consumers actually unhappy, or is it just advertisers and press and investors carping?

Bartz: “Advertisers follow consumers” and we need to “build circulation.” By doing this approach, “we get really good micro-insights for our advertisers.” She doesn’t explain how this will happen, though.

Steele: “Consumers want more from online advertising.” They’re asking for it.

What about video plans?

Bartz: “Video snacks” are crucial to consumers and advertisers. “A big emphasis” inside Yahoo. A “big cornerstone of our strategy.”

How long will campaign run? How will you measure success?

Steele: It’s funded for 15 months, and I expect it will run longer than that. Vague answers about management.

Some chat about search, which formally debuts today.

Will there be product-specific ads?

Steele: Launch of the campaign in each market will start with brand, and over time you’ll see more product ads, as “people get familiar with Yahoo again.”

One more time: Is Zimbra being shopped?

Bartz: No comment. But “what I will tell you is that Zimbra technology is very, very important to our mail system, and that’s one of the prime reasons that Yahoo bought Zimbra when it did…[but] the technology is already integrated into our system.”

How is this campaign different than other campaigns? You’ve had a lot of campaigns in the last 15 years.

Steele: I haven’t been here in past, but I’ve reviewed every campaign that has been done and this is radically different because it’s more than a campaign. Carol and Carol’s staff are all behind the concept of “you.” Everyone’s on board. “If this was just a marketing campaign or a slogan, then we’ve really failed.”

Bartz: This should remind you of the past, actually. That’s not a bad thing. On search: Search has evolved from the “10 blue links” days. She views background of search much like an Intel (INTC) chip, which everyone uses. But Dell’s (DELL) experience with that chip is different than HP’s (HPQ) experience, etc. Yahoo is stable at 19 percent of search business because users are on Yahoo and they like Yahoo search. “Yahoo search is great. It’s not Bing, it’s Yahoo search….What’s most important is that we drive upstream and provide a great experience, even though the plumbing is down here.”

Do users really like to customize their search (premise behind overhauled homepage)?

Bhat: Core group of 15 percent of users really into customization. Most other people say they want that but aren’t willing to do the work. So we’re doing incremental customization on the homepage. “This will be something that keeps growing over time.”

Will you be integrating text-messaging and other short messaging services into the homepage?

Bhat: Yes.

How is the antitrust scrutiny going (with regard to Microsoft search deal)?

Bartz: Just as we predicted. We stand by our original prediction that the deal will close early 2010.

Are we too obsessed about what’s new here?

Bartz: Yes. “People just decided to put a cloud over Yahoo’s head”…and decided that if we’re going to remove the cloud we had to show off something shiny and new. “If you get out of New York and Silicon Valley, everybody loves Yahoo.” I travel a lot and everyone loves it. “I just want to transport you guys out of this cynicism you’re in….Why are you so cynical? Why not be cynical about fricking Google? See…you got me…you got me pissed off.”

[Note. Some debate about whether Bartz used “fricking” instead of an actual curse. We’ll go to tape later. Update: Apologies (and thanks to Business Insider’s Nicholas Carlson, who shared his video with me). Bartz appears to have said “fricking” or “frigging” Google.]

[Sorry about interregnum there. Cursing got me wound up. Back to real-time.]

Where do you want to be in two years?

Bartz: Yahoo is the only site where you when you wake up in the morning and you want to know what’s going on everywhere about everything, you can find it one place. The company is unified around that spirit, “not about technology for technology’s sake, but about what that delivers.”

Why doesn’t Wall Street buy the Yahoo turnaround story even though Google has fared okay during this recession? 

Bartz: “Yahoo and Google are different companies. They are in different businesses…investors are somewhat like you guys, where they’re saying ‘let’s wait and see.'” About this direct comparison with Google: “We aren’t a comparable company. They aren’t us and we aren’t them.”

So whom would you like to be compared to?

Bartz: “Yahoo.” But the closest analog is AOL, actually. Google is a white page with a search box. We’re very personal. When you go to our page in India, it feels like India. Relevance is important. Personalization is important. That’s not Facebook’s strategy. That’s not Twitter. “Not to say we’re not part of the greater tech sector, and you’ve got to find some compares.” But Yahoo is unique. We’re doing okay with the world side; we have to work on the easy personalization that is the core of our product focus.

Please address the stock sale, Carol.

Bartz: “I didn’t sell anything.” I got restricted stock throughout the year; when it vests, it gets recorded as a sale. “I haven’t sold one penny of Yahoo stock. Thanks for asking, because it pissed me off when they said I sold. I wouldn’t do that.”

Q&A ends. More in a bit.

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I’m a giant vat of creative juices.

— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo