If Yahoo! marketing maven Jennifer Price had her way, people would stroll down the street wearing Yahoo! sunglasses, toting a Yahoo! handbag and popping Yahoo! mints. Those are just a few of the ideas about which Ms. Price daydreams.
"Yahoo! is such a fun brand, there are some natural ways to extend it into merchandise," Ms. Price said.
This fall, a Yahoo! line of snowboards, skateboards and wakeboards will hit the stores, licensed by American Board Sports, San Diego. In October, Gregory Mountain Products, Temecula, Calif., will begin distributing a line of Yahoo! daypacks and courier laptop bags.
"They're fun and functional," Ms. Price said, noting that bags will be available at sports specialty stores, computer suppliers, department stores, through mail order and online.
Coastal Concepts, Vista, Calif., is already selling Yahoo! surf clothes through regional chains such as Mervyn's California and Meijer's, a superstore chain in Michigan.
The navigation guide is also talking about watches, books and music titles. What started as free stickers to give away to friends and clients, "evolved into this whole brand-extension idea," Ms. Price said, noting that it sought products that fit its company image as "fun, easy, irreverent, accessible and useful."
"I think it's a fantastic idea," said Drew Ianni, online advertising analyst at Jupiter Communications.
However, he added, "I think they need to be careful, focusing on what their core business is. In Yahoo!'s case, I think they have a strong enough brand. But I think they'd be wise to take a hands-off licensing approach."
NOT THE ONLY ONE
Yahoo! certainly isn't the only online brand seeking off-line outlets in merchandise and syndicated content, although it's by far the most advanced in variety of products and distribution venues.
America Online, for instance, has had an online store for five years, selling everything from backpacks and books to clocks made out of AOL discs, and sweatshirts. It also sells AOL merchandise at its headquarters in Dulles, Va., and a spokesperson said it might migrate its branded products into retail stores.
Personal financial site the Motley Fool, which is on an area of AOL and the Web (www.fool.com), relies on off-line syndication for all of its marketing.
"We want to be the Martha Stewart of online finance," said Erik Rydholm, Motley Fool chief operating officer.
Since starting a syndicated newspaper column last year, the Motley Fool is now in 130 newspapers nationally, including the Chicago Sun-Times, Los Angeles Times and The Miami Herald.
GUIDES IN OFFING
On June 13, it started the "Motley Fool Radio Show," a weekly program syndicated by Cox Radio, in Atlanta and Los Angeles. The Saturday morning program stars site founders Dave Gardner and Tom Gardner and plans to go national in August.
"Clearly the big leap that we make is going from the printed page into something that's personality-based," Mr. Rydholm said. "It's one of the things that makes Martha Stewart so successful."
Motley Fool is also planning a series of how-to financial guides for car buyers and house-hunting consumers. It's already published four financial books through Simon & Schuster.
"A lot of the information is there free," Mr. Rydholm said. "But a lot of people want something they can pass along to their friends; it's hard to pass along a Web site."
Transforming an Internet brand into a physical one isn't an easy task, however.
"At first, it was a little bit daunting--we're taking about something that's existed solely online," said Yahoo!'s Ms. Price, a former marketing services supervisor at Buena Vista Home Video, who's used to protecting a brand. "I want to build something that's going to last long term, something that's really quality and can build on itself," Ms. Price said. "And it's a slow build, which is a strange juxtaposition for the Internet, where everything else happens in a week."
Copyright June 1998, Crain Communications Inc.