Can Yahoo! Reclaim Its Brand Mojo?


There was a time, before Facebook or MySpace existed and Google was little more than a search engine, when Yahoo! was synonymous with brand advertising online. Its most visible champion in the late-'90s and earlier this decade was sales chief Wenda Harris Millard, a fixture on Madison Avenue.

Yet, Yahoo!'s failure to compete effectively in the burgeoning search marketplace led the company to change direction and de-emphasize its branding heritage.

The Web giant invested heavily in building a search-ad platform, spending more than $1 billion on acquisitions like remnant ad network BlueLithium and exchange provider Right Media. Millard was jettisoned in favor of David Karnstedt, a search-marketing veteran with little experience in brand building.

With the battle to avoid a takeover by Microsoft raging, Yahoo! has staked its future on AMP, an ad-buying platform designed to help clients easily run campaigns.

Enter Joanne Bradford, a former Microsoft executive who, like Millard, often fought for the Internet to be taken seriously as a branding vehicle. Bradford ran MSN and developed wide-ranging brand programs like Live Earth and started a well-regarded branded entertainment unit. She often shared the stage at industry events with Millard, who, like Bradford, worked in magazine publishing before migrating online.

Now, Bradford replaces Karnstedt in a broader role as Yahoo!'s senior vice president of U.S revenue and market development. She becomes a key driver of the company's advertising strategy moving forward.

"He's not a Madison Avenue guy like Wenda was," said an agency executive of Karnstedt. "Joanne has a little of that Madison Avenue in her."

Yahoo! declined to make executives available to discuss Bradford's appointment.

The company has long denied taking its focus off brand advertising. In a statement, Yahoo! president Sue Decker said: "Yahoo! and Joanne have a shared mind-set about the strategic role that Yahoo! and online marketing can play to both build leading brands and drive customer acquisition for the world's leading marketers."

Yet, while Decker extolled both sides of the acquisition/brand divide, some in the industry view Yahoo!'s selection of Bradford as an admission that the company has tacked too far toward direct-response ads and away from its roots as, first and foremost, an Internet media company renowned for premium brand advertising -- the kind clients have traditionally done in magazines and on TV.

"What's old is new again," said one ad industry veteran of the hiring.

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