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Close-Up with Elisa Steele, exec VP-CMO, Yahoo

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Yahoo has worked hard over the past few years to increase its share of search traffic in the face of stiff competition from Google, reinforce and increase its leadership in display advertising, and attract more users. Yahoo's “It's Y!ou” public awareness campaign in 2009-2010 sputtered, but the company continues to innovate in its marketing. A recent example is its “How Good Grows” campaign, encouraging generosity through “Ripples of Kindness” and other corporate social responsibility elements. The program is overseen by CMO Elisa Steele, who came to Yahoo in 2009 from storage systems company NetApp Inc. BtoB: How would you describe the idea behind “How Good Grows?” Steele: It's about how we leverage the 600 million-user vastness of the Yahoo network around the world to help do good. It culminates in a lot of different experiences to give back to the community in ways that are meaningful. It started as a campaign to ask people “Are you in?” It got to be so catchy and viral that it grew into this broader program, Ripples of Kindness, that has been recognized as an innovative corporate social responsibility program. It's simply to facilitate ways for people to contribute to what matters most to them. There is no business objective. We feel our place in the world as a big brand is to give back, both globally and locally. BtoB: Can you describe some of the ingredients in the program? Steele: One is Yahoo Safely, put together to help parents and youth understand how they can use the amazing power of the Internet, but to do it safely. For example, families taking a pledge to use the Internet in safe ways. There are now 29 Yahoo Safely sites in 26 countries and 14 languages. Another program is Create for a Cause. Here, we partnered with the Ad Council to promote a competition among agencies to develop an ad for nonprofit organizations using the Yahoo Login Page ad unit. The prize was one free day on a premium Yahoo ad unit, such as the log-in page for Yahoo Mail. The winning ad was “Rescue Your Doggie Double,” supporting the Humane Society and Maddie's Fund to find loving homes for great pets. [See the winning ad here.] BtoB: What other kinds of results has the campaign produced? Steele: Some of the results are planned, like “Create for a Cause,” but others aren't planned. One example was our efforts to raise donations for Japan following the tsunami in March. No one knew that was going to happen but, because we had this platform, we could use it to mobilize help. Within two days we put up a red call-to-action button across all our products, such as news, finance, groups and search, to raise donations internationally. We ultimately raised $8 million in 10 business days. BtoB: How else are you leveraging “How Good Grows?” Steele: We've been extending it internally as well as externally. We went inside the company and said if anybody feels a passion to donate, that we'd match it two to one. BtoB: How are you promoting the program? Steele: We use the Yahoo network as our major platform. And if you become a fan on Facebook, we do announcements there that can drive people back to Yahoo sites. And we have a Twitter feed. But I wouldn't characterize this as a branding effort at all. This is about our company and what we believe in. We believe this is important as part of who we are.
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