Yahoo's Tweaks to 18-Year Old Brand are Underwhelming, Industry Execs Say

A Series of Font Changes Not Likely to Improve Portal's Business

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Amid an overarching company turnaround under CEO Marissa Mayer, Yahoo has decided to redesign its 18-year-old logo and devised a 30-day campaign to drum up attention, spearheaded by CMO Kathy Savitt. But will the effort prove effective?

"I think they've got bigger problems than their logo," said Forrester principal analyst Jim Nail, alluding to the portal's declining display advertising revenue and struggles to make money off its mobile audience. "Aside from that flip answer, the whole name 'Yahoo' and the design of that logo is still very, at best, Web 2.0 if not Web 1.0. It's a bit dated."

One candidate for Yahoo's new logo
One candidate for Yahoo's new logo

"The logo to me feels a little hokey, it's old, and I really support redesigns," said Deutsch LA's chief digital officer Winston Binch. "It won't save their business, but great design can do a lot. It can lead people to reconsider Yahoo, a better customer experience, get employees reenergized."

Still, there's the question of whether Yahoo's decision to redesign its logo is makeover of a symbol or symbolic of the company's broader turnaround. Consider what competitor AOL did when it unveiled a half-dozen new logos after splitting from Time Warner as a declaration of independence.

"A logo refresh can be a good statement to say, 'We're not your father's Yahoo,'" Mr. Nail said.

But some in the industry felt Yahoo's strategy to preview one new logo candidate a day over 30 days came across as gimmicky.

In a Facebook post, branding expert Laura Ries said it's bound to confuse consumers. "First of all, drastic logo changes are generally not a good idea (ie GAP, JCP, Tropicana)," she wrote. "Second of all, instead of changing it in a decisive manner...they will roll out 30 days of other logos to totally confuse people and make mush of any visual identity the brand had left in the mind before revealing the new look."

"It doesn't feel all that fresh. Google does this routinely," Mr. Binch said, referring to the Google Doodles the search giant rolls out with increasing frequency for events as varied as the Fourth of July and Ella Fitzgerald's birthday. "I don't feel they went far enough. It's a missed opportunity to engage people. If you're trying to make real news with the redesign, you have to go to go for it."

Of the three logos Yahoo has so far trotted out, there is little variation, perhaps in part because Yahoo has said it is retaining the logo's purple coloring and exclamation mark. "They just don't look all that different. They're very incrementally different with different fonts essentially," said Mr. Binch.

And Yahoo has only timidly involved its audience in the undertaking. People can reblog, like or leave comments on the candidates posted to Yahoo's Tumblr, but the company didn't implement a voting mechanism for people to pick out what the new logo should be and have a sense of ownership in the decision and Yahoo's brand. By not doing that, the company risks people gravitating to images that end up as also-rans when Yahoo reveals the new logo on September 5.

"If this is a campaign, this is the first I've heard of it," Mr. Nail said on Friday afternoon. "And again that makes me worried that this is more of a personal choice by a new set of executives rather than a strategic statement about who Yahoo is today, where it's headed and why that's different that it was in the past. That's the kind of message Yahoo needs to get out."

Yahoo and Ms. Savitt were not immediately available for comment on the campaign.

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