How Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL Are Trying to Reclaim Their Luster

Tale of the Tape: The Web's Old Guard Is Spending Old-Media-Style Big in Push

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Facebook and Twitter get all the attention, but Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft, all onetime winners in their respective categories (portals, internet access, operating systems), are out to remind the world they're still the heavy-hitters on the web.

Bing ad
Bing ad
For these brands, the downside to not being today's bright and shiny objects is they have to spend like old media to get their messages out, and even more to change established opinions about them. All three are spending (or about to spend) a collective $200 million-plus to juice up old brands or to enter new markets. How are they doing?


THE SERVICE:

YAHOO: Yahoo remains the biggest, baddest display-ad powerhouse. But growth is gone, and the brand could use a dusting-off.

AOL: AOL still has major scale, good agency relationships and the biggest global ad network. But analysts peg its post-spinoff value at a mere $4 billion, down from the $20 billion Google assigned to it in 2005 .

MICROSOFT: The company is going all-in with Bing, its competitor to Google search, and needs to both build that brand among consumers and convince the public and regulators that it should be able to acquire Yahoo's search business.


MARKETING PLAY:

YAHOO: "It's Y!ou," an 18-month campaign by Ogilvy and Landor Associates brings back the yodel in new form. It's the first global campaign in Yahoo's history and the first big push under CEO Carol Bartz.

AOL: Retained Leo Burnett USA to give the brand "more life." It's betting heavily on its Running Man logo, believing that, at age 25, it qualifies for ironic-icon status.

MICROSOFT: Campaign launched in May from JWT branding Bing as "the world's first decision engine." The name, created with help from Interbrand, is designed to encourage the phrase "just Bing it."


SPENDING:

YAHOO: $100 million on web, TV, outdoor and print.

AOL: Total spending unclear.

MICROSOFT: In midst of a $100 million ad campaign for Bing launched in May.


THE GOAL:

YAHOO: To defend the brand in the U.S. and expand it in emerging markets. Increase both monthly users and time spent on the service.

Carol Bartz
Carol Bartz
AOL: To redefine itself as a digital-media company -- and major content producer -- under new management.

MICROSOFT: To break a very hardened consumer habit: starting with Google when searching the web.


WILL IT WORK?

YAHOO: Too early to tell; it's dropping a lot of money on a brand, but will the service itself be improved enough to win converts? Ms. Bartz claims that the Yahoo brand doesn't need rebuilding; it's just fine once you leave the cynical confines of New York and Silicon Valley.

AOL: AOL has yet to launch a broad consumer-facing campaign; among advertisers, however, it's making lots of noise. As Ad Age noted in our coverage of AOL's agency choice, "that it called upon Leo Burnett -- perceived in the ad circles as old-school and conventional -- indicates that AOL, an internet company with a 25-year history, has no intentions of trying to be cool." There are hints at a long-term branding campaign; expect one to coincide with the spinoff of the company from Time Warner in early 2010.

MICROSOFT: The ads have launched to mixed reviews, but Microsoft did win praise for actually delivering a better product in Bing -- and then throwing enough marketing weight behind it. Bing.com has gained 1.5% search share between July and August, according to Hitwise. A start, but it's still got a long way to go.

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