Thursday, November 30, 2006

Context as Brand: Yahoo Builds Brand Experiences out of Destination Content

Earlier this week The New York Times highlighted the return of "old school" branded content, with sponsors such as Match.com buying both high-profile product placements and co-naming rights to cable and broadcast U.S. television programs. Shades of the 1950s, when shows like Texaco Star Theater were branded by corporations looking for cost-effective exposure - and control - in a young medium hungry for ad dollars. But Variety points to a new take on content branding - destination content focused on major brand products assembled by Yahoo. Yahoo has targeted 100 top consumer brands and products and has assembled content from their various portal properties to develop an immersive brand experience. First up: Nintendo's new Wii game console.

Content from Yahoo covering the Wii includes postings from user-generated properties such as del.icio.us, Flicker and Yahoo! Answers as well as content from Yahoo! Games, branded gear for your Yahoo! Avatar, a buyer's guide with content from Yahoo! Shopping, and so on - and, of course, ads from both Nintendo and other advertisers taking advantage of a highly brand-centric environment. Brand heaven, right? Well, kind of. Creating a community around a major brand as destination content is a great idea, but the problem is that everything is so...YAHOO. Like so much of Yahoo it's hard to walk away from the experience feeling like you're really inside the featured brand: it's a little like saying "NBC's Texaco Star Theater."

Yahoo is pressing hard to romance major corporate advertisers to take advantage of their brand-friendly approach to advertising, but as it trips over its own brand development efforts it seems to lay a consistent trail of brand conflicts. The mini-portal concept has a lot going for it but Yahoo needs to allow its own branding to recede a bit more and let the context speak for itself. An ideal environment would be a little more like a Wikipedia or MySpace, where the tools are there to create specialized portal presences but without an overbearing hand of traditional media-oriented marketers making too much of a fuss over the details. Let ANY brand use these tools to create their own brand heaven - and just stand back and enjoy the results.
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