Do We Yahoo? After This Ad Disaster, Absolutely Not

A Soho Square and Ogilvy One Spot Goes Wrong on So Many Levels

By Published on .

What's the opposite of yahoo?

If the yodelish yelp is meant to connote triumph, shouldn't there be a fanciful word to whoop out when the outcome is bad?

Never mind. For the moment we withdraw the question, as we've just thought of a dozen words that serve exactly that function, none of them printable here. So, to begin again, have you seen the new Yahoo commercial from Soho Square and Ogilvy One, New York?

[Not printable here]! What a bad outcome.

The spot, titled "Bully," is part of Yahoo's (semi) relaunch, which includes a reconfigured home page, new mail and content options, and a (supposed) return to its eccentric "Do You Yahoo!?" advertising roots. Well, the tagline and yodel are back, but otherwise this ad is about as eccentric as an archery target.

On the contrary, it's as close to filming the strategy as ever produced -- the strategy being to get those little teenyboppers off of MySpace and Facebook and back to Yahoo where they belong. The nominal selling point is e-mail embedded in your home page, but it's all but lost in the embarrassing pandering that surrounds it.

The spot is a "Freaks and Geeks" scenario, centering on a scrawny little high-school kid confronted by Chuck, the heavyset class bully. We see two versions of the episode. In one, surrounded by his bully posse, Chuck grabs the squirt, gives him a jockey-shorts wedgie and hangs him from a locker by the white elastic band, to the amusement of the crowd.

In the second play, the little guy has been forewarned via e-mail. When his hulking nemesis arrives and reaches for the back of his skivvies, the geeky hero produces the underpants in his left hand and says, "Looking for these, butt-toucher?" This turns the tables. The posse immediately laughs at Chuck and derisively repeats, "butt-toucher!" Humiliated, the bully skulks away. Yahoo Revenge of the Nerd!

But what a long way to go to dramatize a benefit of e-mail.

First of all, the cliche of the overgrown bully terrorizing classmates -- at least in high school -- is rooted more in popular imagination than reality. Secondly, as long as we're discussing reality, even if you accept the contrived premise, the killer app that would have stymied this killer ape isn't e-mail at all. It's text messaging, duh.

Finally, even if you buy that e-mail saved the day in this vignette, what exactly about e-mail directly on the home page is relevant to the events as portrayed? The answer, obviously, is "nothing." (Wait. Did we say finally? We're not done. The production is also extremely flimsy; the actors can't even enunciate and the staging has all the professionalism of a high-school production of "Guys and Dolls.")

Perhaps you think we're being picky. But the idea isn't to overanalyze an innocuous slice-of-life spot. The point is that the commercial doesn't bear any scrutiny on any level. Surely there is a way to highlight the home-page e-mail feature that at least makes sense, let alone actual relevance to the target audience's little lives.

Therein the irony. The announced plan was to restore Yahoo advertising's quirky roots. Instead the ad aimed an ordinary arrow at the demographic bull's-eye. But it missed; it was way off-center. Eccentric, that is -- just not in the way anyone intended. Likewise the definition of yahoo. Sure, the triumphant yelp is one thing, but there's also the Swiftian meaning, from the race of boorish numbskulls in "Gulliver's Travels."

Which is to say: Maybe there's no need to find the opposite of yahoo. Maybe, through the miracle of mediocre advertising, we've located its essence.

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Review: 1.5 stars
Ad: "Bully"
Marketer: Yahoo
Agency: Soho Square and Ogilvy One
Location: New York
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