Yahoo, brand drama and the summer solstice

Img_0015_2 It’s like that scene in Men in Black, the one that shows aliens bailing out of spaceship earth. 

A lot of talent is now in flight, including Flickr founders, Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake, Delicious founder, Joshua Schacter, not to mention Jeff Weiner, Usama Fayyad, Jeremy Zawodny, JR Conlin, and Bradley Horowitz.

But wait a second.  Delicious and Flickr belonged to Yahoo?  No kidding.  I am sure lots of people knew this, but, if I may use myself as a measure, lots of people did not.   

This is an interesting branding problem.  I mean, what if Yahoo were in the hands of a different, more expert, branding team?  What if the meanings were actually being managed here? 

One strategy is, of course, to rename everything Yahoo.  But that seems pointless and dumb.  Not least because we have such interesting naming exercise in the works: and Flickr. 

Vowels excised or isolated?  It was if these new brands were taunting the skittish adopter, as if to say, "we are so necessary, we can call ourselves anything, and you will still embrace us."   I, for one, was terrified by and it took me an extra month to try it out.  Sure enough, this service was so useful, I found a had to use it and that funny sounding word. 

The other extreme is "embarrassed parent," no acknowledgment. This appears Yahoo’s present strategy, if they have a strategy, that is.   But this seems just as pointless. "Brand neglect" is never a good idea.  Especially now that Google appears to have stepped up their game.  HP has done some nice work recently.  I feel like we are still waiting to hear something sustained from Cisco, but what little we hear is nice.  Microsoft bumble along as usual, truculent and contrary, the teenager who blames us for his mistakes.  The social networks have their own brand vivacity.  Anytime you are the platform for identity creation and identity management, you don’t have to work very hard.  But it won’t be long before the space too becomes crowded with competition and then branding will have to be done deliberately.  This moment will come sooner than Facebook thinks. 

In between is "big tent" and "loose orbit." And in this case, we want the lesser brands to flourish beneath, or around, a concept that is  gigantic and capacious.  And this would be interesting, wouldn’t it?  Building the architecture within which these very vital brands could play.  We would be looking for the subtle and not so subtle exchange of meanings between the star ship and the things in orbit.  Who builds the brand capital?  Who ferries it?  How do brands divide the labor of meaning manufacture. 

I was going to do a kind of stage 2 of this post.  For the events at Yahoo this week raise still deeper anthropological issues that take us from the meanings of the brand to the culture of the corporation.  I am thinking especially of the brilliant resignation letter that Stewart Butterfield sent to Yahoo this week.  It is the most brilliant thing I’ve read in a long time.  (It is reproduced in the article here.)

But then I thought, hey, this last day of the week is the first day of summer.  I am going to make the toys go for Molly, have dinner with Pam, and raise a glass of something rich and mysterious.  Happy summer solstice!


Thomas, Owen.  2008.  Stewart Butterfield’s bizarre resignation letter to Yahoo.  Valleywag.  June 17, 2008.  here.

Wray, Richard and Bobbie Johnson.  2008. ‘I’m off to tend my alcapas’ – Flickr founder’s exit marks end of a web era.  The Guarden.  June 20, 2008. here

2 thoughts on “Yahoo, brand drama and the summer solstice

  1. ptcrane

    commenting on the resignation letter, and especially the comments on that article: this is entertainment at its best! i was dying laughing at the range and humor (sometimes not meant that way, i’m sure) of the commentary.

    i could imagine you enjoying the metaphorical nature of the resignation letter, too!

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