In the ramp up to Election Day, there’s nothing more American than stepping on a soapbox, saying what’s on your mind—and eating apple pie.
Yahoo! tapped into fall election fever with a 10-market campaign offering just that, by parking a branded news van on Main Streets across the country and giving consumers an outlet to share their views, plus a slice of pie for their effort. The Ask America tour launched last month and is one in a series of experiences in which Yahoo! steps out of cyberspace and into the lives of its users, in an effort to connect with them offline—and then drive them back to its website. During the tour, the Yahoo! News van rolled into key campaign events, polling consumers on issues and getting them to speak out and post video content on askamerica.yahoo.com until it wound up in the nation’s capital on Oct. 30 for the satirical rallies on the National Mall hosted by Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
The online-offline-online strategy began a year ago when Yahoo! constructed pop-up sound studios in New York City, London and Mumbai where people recorded their own versions of its iconic yodel. Next, the brand got up close and personal with Olympic fans inside its comfy Fancouver lounge complete with a hot chocolate bar, free WiFi, streaming video and a broadcast studio. Its World Cup marketing included an online fantasy soccer game for fans in 22 countries that came to life at events in major cities where recreational soccer players got to take penalty shots against the likes of world-class goalies David Seaman and BJ Kim.
The concept of the “hybrid” event strategy may be all the rage these days, but for a company like Yahoo!, it’s now a requirement. The online realm has become as cluttered as the offline world, and it takes unified marketing in both dimensions to drive engagement. Yahoo!’s experiences all tie in with the brand’s single-largest global integrated marketing campaign ever, a $100 million international branding effort that kicked off a year ago and centers on the active consumer—those people glued to their laptops or endlessly tapping away on their smartphones. The campaign hypes Yahoo!’s personalized home pages, updated mail and messenger services and new search experience. The campaign tagline, “It’s Y!ou,” reinforces the message that Yahoo! is relevant, personal and meaningful to users.
As a brand, Yahoo! already enjoys high consumer reach, up to 80 percent, according to Elisa Steele, executive vice president and chief marketing officer. The web portal and search engine with $6.46 billion in revenue boasts an audience of 500 million monthly users. It serves up 32,000 home pages every five minutes. But typically those people are interacting with just one of Yahoo!’s products, maybe Yahoo! Finance, or its email or search capabilities. “What we are trying to do is take the reach that we have, which is very strong, and help those consumers understand what additional experiences they can get from Yahoo!,” Steele explains.
Take moms, for example, a segment that wields tremendous spending power, a fact not lost on Yahoo! advertisers. “Moms are a really important market for Yahoo! for content consumption and productivity tools,” Steele says. “We want to bring them through the one experience that they may be addicted to, such as the content they get in the morning on their home page, and show them how they can extend that with the other products and services that we offer.”
Ask America, Yodel Studio, Fancouver and World Cup reached those moms, sports enthusiasts and other Yahoo! consumers via social networking, face-to-face events, online content, competition and games that represented the Yahoo! brand and the breadth of its offerings. “It is a key part of our strategy,” says Steele. “We get a lot of comments from consumers who interact with us in this way and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that’ or ‘I’m so glad to know that Yahoo! provides that for me now.’”
As an online company, Yahoo!’s use of experiential marketing to bring consumers back to its online portal has evolved since the old days when the company’s internal Buzz Marketing team was more into executing stunts to promote its products rather than connecting with consumers. Corrin Arasa, president of New York City-based e2 Marketing, one of Yahoo!’s experiential agencies, recalls a Times Square buzz event to launch Yahoo! Answers back in 2006. “We brought in 22 of the world’s smartest people to live in a Times Square marquee for three days,” she says. “They answered questions in a live webcast from people all over the world. Deepak Choprah came by to meditate with them and chefs brought brain food. A neurologist on-site talked about what foods and exercises are good for your brain.” In addition, regular Yahoo! appearances at the Video Music Awards and Grammies created press opportunities as the brand interacted with celebrities and put their playlists and other content on Yahoo! sites.
Eight months ago, the Buzz Marketing group was reframed as the Experiential and Social Team, a moniker that reflects Yahoo!’s new agenda: strategically drive behavior online and change attitude. Buzz for buzz’s sake is out. Buzz that drives people to the brand’s network of websites is in.
Yahoo!’s Experiential and Social Team now comes under the leadership of Barbara O’Connor, vp-consumer marketing, who also handles marketing for Yahoo! Sports, Yahoo! Finance and Yahoo! News. O’Connor expanded the group with fresh faces and experienced hands, such as Andrew Strickman, formerly of Ammo Marketing. “We brought in folks who really know this business,” O’Connor says. (She also manages a separate events team that handles trade shows and internal events. Both groups comprise 15 people who often work closely together.)
“We renamed the group because the connotation of ‘buzz’ is ‘one time and it’s done,’” O’Connor says. “Now, where everything is inherently social and has a word-of-mouth component, we thought it made sense to bring hands-on Yahoo! experiences into the real world, and that’s when we changed the name.”
Buzz is still an important goal, but now it is tied more closely to measurable objectives. “We are very metrics focused, so as we measure these events, in addition to reach and engagement, we definitely have measurements of the pick-up in social, peer mentions, word-of-mouth and pass along. Buzz is a key element in many of these programs and part of how we measure that success,” she adds.
Yahoo! tracks it all via dashboards that measure the origins of traffic to the site, whether it comes from online marketing, the Yahoo! home page or other sources. “That helps us understand how successful we are with word-of-mouth and with other folks helping to amplify our message and excitement,” O’Connor says.
Pre- and post-surveys conducted at Fancouver and World Cup revealed attitudinal metrics. “More and more we want to get the human element and the emotional connection with the audience,” she says. “Are we perceived as a leader in the area? Are we relevant? So when we look at the success of these experiential activities, they are totally tied to our business goals online and our brand attributes (there are four: fun, human, relevant and inventive) and attitudinal goals.”
The Yahoo! Yodel Studio in New York City’s Times Square, London and Mumbai was the first experience in Yahoo!’s “It’s Y!ou” campaign. “It was designed to be a big component in the overall launch,” e2’s Arasa says. “The experiential group was heavily involved and worked alongside the agencies and brand team to create an integrated, global campaign.”
The concept, she says, was to give Yahoo!’s yodel back to the people and allow them to participate in the new brand. So on Military Island, smack dab in the center of Times Square, Yahoo! constructed a full-sized professional recording studio made of two trailers finished with a faux brick façade to look real inside and out. Consumers entered and registered, then chose one of 22 tracks to accompany their yodel, from hip-hop, R&B, jazz, to practically any genre. A stylist dressed them in wigs and costumes to look like rock stars. Celebrities Randy Jackson and Jewel coached them and wished them luck. They yodeled to the accompaniment of a six-piece band comprised of Grammy-award winners perched in a “Hollywood Squares”-style set while the whole thing streamed over Times Square’s electronic billboards.
More than 600 yodelers went through the studios in the three cities, but their sounds were heard around the world as they shared their tunes on yodelstudio.yahoo.com, Facebook, Twitter and other sites. “Consumers got behind it in a big way,” Arasa says. “It was an amazing event.”
Next up was Fancouver, a 5,000-square-foot space in the middle of Vancouver’s hip Yaletown area that built on “It’s Y!ou” to create a custom environment all about the fans. “We didn’t want to make it about the Yahoo! brand or highlight its history as a lot of other sponsors did,” Arasa says. “It was more about the consumers’ needs and what Yahoo! could uniquely deliver on-site at the right time that no one else could, so we built the experience about connecting fans to what matters most to them at the Olympics.”
Yahoo! transformed a former Mini Cooper dealership into a warm, inviting space with exposed brick, natural woods and a central three-tiered structure where fans gathered to meet Olympic athletes and other fans in person; they met virtually with those at home through live “fan cams” in which they texted a URL then connected via live video and audio feed. The brand served up hot chocolate and provided bathrooms and Internet-ready Macs for checking emails and checking out sports.yahoo.com. Fans could see live coverage of the games in a working broadcast studio filled with analysts and athletes or try their skiing and snowboarding skills on Wii Fit balance boards. A photo activation had people dress in their native country garb or act out snowboarding or skiing scenes with professional photographers, then upload images to Flickr’s Vancouver Photo Group page and print them out. Attendees received two copies, one to take home, and the other to hang on Yahoo!’s giant “you” (as in, “It’s Y!ou”) wall collage. As if that weren’t enough, an augmented reality video screen just outside the space superimposed objects on their heads; at another screen their hand movements navigated a snowboarder down a virtual run.
Fancouver brand ambassadors, chosen in part for their extensive Twitter and Facebook followings, extended the action online during social media breaks during the day in which they updated their social media networks with the latest news.
The results were as impressive as the Olympic feats themselves, creating excitement on the ground and online. More than 80,000 fans visited Fancouver in the first 12 days; they took 12,000 photos against the Yahoo! Fancouver backdrop, then forwarded them to friends and family. In addition, hundreds of thousands of photos taken by the fans and posted on Flickr generated additional viral buzz.
Yahoo! was the number one online destination for Winter Olympics coverage, beating out NBC and Microsoft, the official sponsors of the games. It received 32 million unique visitors to its Olympics site versus NBC’s 19 million, according to Comscore numbers. Visitors spent 314 million minutes on the Yahoo! Olympics site, 96 million more than they did on NBC’s.
O’Connor attributes that online success in part to Yahoo’s reach and its editorial coverage, which is where her team comes into play. “We take our key asset of this fabulous editorial and programming and put it front and center and connect it with the audience,” she says. But the fans had a role, too.
She compares the strategy to the machinations necessary to pull off the perfect dinner party. “What we do is pick the right venue, get the great caterer, pretest the food, make sure the wine goes with the meal, but at the end of the day, it is the guests,” she explains. “We engage our terrific audience and they bring it to life and contribute to the content. They took the photos and uploaded them to Flickr. They got the word out.”
The fans kicked in with Yahoo!’s World Cup marketing blitz as well, an integrated effort that once again bridged the online and offline worlds to drive consumers to the Yahoo! site. Online, Yahoo! created a custom World Soccer channel and provided tournament coverage across its network via new shortcuts on Yahoo! search results and real-time scores and breaking news. Fans could download a Yahoo! toolbar with World Cup coverage and keep up to date via a mobile site. They could play Yahoo! Sports World Soccer 2010, a pick ’em style fantasy soccer game in which they could select winners for each match of the World Cup or compete, along with two million others, in a virtual penalty shootout contest that ended with two point leaders facing off in a real shootout in Rio de Janeiro. The winner took home a Yahoo! Sports Pass, which awarded free travel, lodging and tickets to any four top sporting events in the world each year for four years. Fans also could participate in an experiment called Predicalot from Yahoo! Labs in which they guessed how many European teams would advance to the quarterfinals and other questions.
Yahoo! launched its World Cup coverage with live guerrilla events that had consumers taking penalty shots against top goalies in Brazil, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Korea, Spain and the United Kingdom. “We like to surprise and delight, so we looked for great locations that had the right background and the right foot traffic. In London, it was on the west bank of the Thames; in Seoul, a shopping mall,” O’Connor says.
Tapping into its fans’ passion for soccer—online and offline—made it all work. “You take all the elements—a can’t-buy prize experience, fun, a little competition with your friends—and wrap it all together and tie it to a real world event which was World Cup, where there already is activity and passion. That to me is the secret for making this work. Once again, our audience brought it to life. We set the table and picked the venue, but their passion for soccer and having fun made this work so well,” she explains.
Next up was Yahoo! News and a portion of the site called Ask America, an interactive mid-term elections forum where users could search, vote on issues and share opinions. Once again, Yahoo! drove the excitement offline. “Sports was a great start; we are fortunate that there were two huge sporting events this year, and we’re fortunate to have the mid-term elections as the third piece,” O’Connor says.
Ask America stepped up the action in two ways. First, a Yahoo! news van crisscrossed the country, stopping in 10 markets where consumers used iPads to vote on issues on the Ask America site, or voiced their opinions on a soapbox. Editors traveling with the van conducted interviews that they published as content on the site. Yahoo! sweetened the experience with a slice of apple pie and bumper stickers and pin giveaways. “Yahoo! is the enabler, we’re not taking a stand pro or con but are enabling the conversation through the news van,” O’Connor says.
On Oct. 16, in 20 locations, Yahoo! handed out lawn signs as well as apple pie and bumper stickers. People took pictures of themselves with the signs and uploaded them to Facebook or emailed them to firstname.lastname@example.org. One person chosen at random won a $5,000 prize, and the town with the most pictures by Nov. 2 received $15,000 for a community project (Agency: Legacy Marketing Partners, Chicago).
“This is another example that reinforces our online presence, our number one news site and great election coverage, but does it in a fun way, showing up in real life and letting folks experience our editorial and be part of the video itself,” O’Connor says.
O’Connor promises that more of these consumer-engaging experiences are in the works. Case in point: A trial that took place this month in two San Francisco neighborhoods that pitted kids from one ’hood playing games against the other on huge interactive digital screens outside transit stations. The winning neighborhood got a Yahoo! block party, complete with a local band. “Throughout the experience they interacted with Yahoo! products and services so they saw how Yahoo! can be a part of their online life, and at the same time had fun as they rooted for one neighborhood against the other,” Steele says.
Fun—and live experiences. Just what you would expect from a company with an exclamation point at the end of its name. EM