Yahoo’s Lip Service

The new Yahoo commercial, “Lip Synch,” part of the first work for the brand from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, is cute and beautifully produced without being too slick. A sort of  “Geeks Gone Wild,” it connects with the whole Glee, American Idol, reality TV and YouTube pop culture moment in which everyone can be the star of his or her own digital camera fantasies.

The fantasy begins in true Alice in Wonderland trip-like form, except here our hero steps through a door painted Yahoo purple. Then it’s, hey, Mr. Cube Dwelling Office Dude, throw off that cheap, ill-fitting button-down shirt and tie, step into the limo, put on your tuxedo, come out with a model, take off your tuxedo and then sing Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights” — a great song. You, too, can be a rap star surrounded by paparazzi and bikinied ones.

Not that this is a breakthrough idea. But because the spot is so nicely cast, shot and cut, it makes up in its production what it lacks in originality. It’s fun to watch, simple as that. It also makes Yahoo approachable. With the tagline, “Make Yahoo your home page,” it suggests that the right brand of home page turns you into a famous homeboy.

It’s certainly better than the previous work, which featured the uncomfortable spelling of “Y!ou” and a video that actually tried to sell us on a place where “time and space collide, and breed joy and wow. Where news travels faster and where you can consume, share, buzz, destroy, watch and wonder.”

Well, that seemed to be about the Internet in general, whereas the new Goodby spot seems to be selling Yahoo as a leader in entertainment content, a sensible enough positioning.
But as cute and charming as it is, it still comes off as somewhat generic. What differentiates Yahoo from other portals? Why would I need to go there to get my music, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube fix? Plus, these days, technology has moved on from portals. When I’m away from my desktop, how will Yahoo figure into my smartphone or iPad apps?

The out-of-home ads are even more generic, despite counseling us that Yahoo is “Your own personal everything.” (Again, it’s an improvement over the stuff that looked like blood-drive posters that preceded it.) The first shows a young blonde woman hugging herself. Her arms are filled with tattoos, but if you look closely you see that interwoven into the usual flowers and clouds tat motifs are logos and icons for Yahoo, Facebook and Flickr, among others.

It makes you want to figure out what you’re seeing, and that’s good. But while she’s wearing hipster clothes, scarf and all, the overall takeaway is oddly bland — like a Procter & Gamble (or PG) version of Bombshell McGee.

Speaking of cleaned up, the second billboard, featuring the line, “Find your inner everything,” features a nice-looking guy in freshly laundered jeans and a fashionable cardigan smiling into the distance and holding a guitar case. Again, it’s oddly clean and sparkly — is he thinking of starting the Hannah Montana Band? It also appears to be promoting Yahoo search. There’s a box on the top in which the line “Starting a band” appears and the guitar case is covered in logos and stickers — Yahoo, MTV, Yelp, etc.

Plus, why should this sell us on Yahoo for search? At least Bing advertising explains why, as a “decision engine,” its search experience is different, as well as better than Google’s, and does it in an attention-getting, entertaining way. Even Google advertised on the Super Bowl, but drilled down to tell a delightful story by just showing a screen and fingers on a keyboard. These Yahoo billboards, and the digital pop-up ads for search, seem like the same old same old.

In the end, it’s not going to be any particular advertising line or image, no matter how brilliant, that will differentiate Yahoo and give consumers a reason to go there. It will be the technology, pure and simple. Form follows function. Use technology to sell technology. Give us the thing itself, rather than the cleaned-up, fantasy image or metaphorical version that advertising provides. That alone will deliver Yahoo at its best “inner everything.”