Why Yahoo’s Summly Acquisition Was a PR Stunt

Photo via Suzanne Plunkett/REUTERS

Photo via Suzanne Plunkett/REUTERSYou may have heard today that Yahoo, which is in the midst of trying to “sex up” its brand image, just bought Summly, a “news summary” app created by a 17-year-old British kid named Nick D’Aloisio, for a whopping $30 million. But was Yahoo really expanding its product portfolio, or was the company just buying a bunch of good publicity? We’re firmly in the latter camp — and we’ll explain why.

The real value of this app has to be less than the selling price, especially when it faces competitors like Pulse, Flipboard and Pocket. But the move scored the company a first-page New York Times story with the headline “He Has Millions and a New Job at Yahoo. Soon, He’ll Be 18.” Compelling, no? He’s bold, he’s young and he’s a millionaire with his own Wikipedia page. He certainly doesn’t sound like the typical Yahoo user — and that’s the whole point. New York Magazine’s Kevin Roose notes that the last acquisition to get this much media hype was Facebook buying Instagram for a whole lot more money.

So it’s all part of Marissa Mayer‘s carefully planned image makeover.

Here’s the rub: Yahoo needs to hire more young, sleep-deprived tech folk to improve its websites and services. The company has gone so far as to send “we want you back” swag to former employers. D’Aloisio is a much better spokesman for the tech demographic than, well, just about anybody else we can think of. Today’s Silicon Beat headline reads “Meet Nick D’Aloisio, the New Face of Yahoo.” Come on! Could we be any more obvious?

So Yahoo just paid $30 million for a new spokesman. Will it work?

(Oh, and a note to PR pros: Please do NOT follow the 15-year-old D’Aloisio’s promotional strategy, which amounted to “beg blog editors constantly to feature my product.” They might get a little pissed.)