Yahoo Brings $100 Million Global Ad Blitz to Asia

Portal Operator Offers Free Wi-Fi to Raise its Profile in Greater China

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Yahoo is providing free wi-fi services on 108 Hong Kong buses for three months
Yahoo is providing free wi-fi services on 108 Hong Kong buses for three months

HONG KONG ( -- Yahoo's $100 million global "It's You" re-branding blitz has arrived in Asia, starting in key markets with large numbers of internet users like Taiwan and South Korea. The campaign won't run in mainland China, where Yahoo's joint-venture partner Alibaba Group is in charge of marketing.

Localized for local markets, the campaign has rolled out in Hong Kong, Taiwan and India, and will debut in South Korea and Indonesia next year. Ads promote changes Yahoo has made to its brand and core products, such as a more personalized and mobile experience and better social networking features.

While ads are running in TV, print and online media, Yahoo is relying largely on the popularity of public transit in Asia. In Hong Kong, for example, the company gave free bus rides to thousands of passengers on eight Yahoo-themed buses on Nov. 14.

Yahoo is also providing free wi-fi for the next three months on 108 buses operated by New World First, one of Hong Kong's largest bus companies. The free service will display the Yahoo login and landing pages when commuters connect to the web, then they can surf any site they wish. The service will reach millions of commuters in Hong Kong, where buses are a common form of transportation for adults and students.

Campaign coincides with new product launches
The bus promotion is about "creating experiences people will find meaningful, relevant and fun," said Penny Baldwin, Yahoo's senior VP, integrated marketing and brand management, based in Sunnyvale, Calif. "This is more than a brand campaign."

A similar effort started this month in Taiwan, where Yahoo just celebrated its 10th anniversary. Public buses in Taiwan don't offer wi-fi, so the company is focusing on traditional media ads and branded photo booths placed in parts of downtown Taipei frequented by teens. They can take photos in the booths that are then posted on Yahoo's Taiwan portal.

In another promotion, fans share stories online about how they use the site, a tactic that works in Taiwan because users there have a stronger and longer connection with the brand compared to other Asian markets, said Jeff Han, Yahoo's Taipei-based marketing director for Asia.

Yahoo is the No. 1 portal in Taiwan, except in instant messaging, where it ranks No. 2 behind MSN, due in part to a 2001 merger with the top local site, Kimo.

Both campaigns coincide with Yahoo's new e-mail service in those markets and other products like the Mobile Front Page (, a mobile home page that lets users access their favorite content and sites on a single web location.

Initiatives in both Greater China markets are part of a major global campaign created by WPP's Ogilvy & Mather this fall called "It's You."

The campaign was designed to pump up Yahoo's public image after being "dark for so long," said Rose Tsou, Yahoo's Taipei-based managing director for Asia. "Yahoo has been somewhat quiet. We need to assert our position. Our vision is to be at the center of people's online lives – a place where their world meets the larger world."

The U.S. digital media company wants to boost Yahoo's user base and increase the amount of time visitors spend with Yahoo properties, which were once dominant in the U.S. (and well-known in Asia), but now compete with social networks and applications such as Facebook and Twitter for attention.

In the U.S., Yahoo also has lost ground in online search to Microsoft and Google.

Troubles in the U.S. have energized Yahoo to step up its marketing in emerging markets like Asia.

Earlier this month at a Global Leader Series talk organized by the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore, Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz said the company sees great potential in the region's fast-growing online ad industry: "As the internet grows, the ability to bring advertising online is enormous."

Global campaign won't run in mainland China
But in Asia, Yahoo doesn't just face competition from global rivals. Asian markets have powerful local sites too. That's one reason the global campaign will not run in mainland China, the world's largest internet and mobile phone market by number of users.

In China, Yahoo has a joint venture with e-commerce giant Alibaba, which sold a 40% stake of its business to Yahoo in 2005 in exchange for control of Yahoo China. The U.S. company remains hands-off when it comes to marketing, product roll-outs and other business operations there.

Yahoo ads for Taiwan, like this poster, will not run in mainland China
Yahoo ads for Taiwan, like this poster, will not run in mainland China
"Alibaba runs everything at Yahoo China. We only have an investment in the operation," Ms. Tsou said. "China is very difficult for foreign companies in the internet space. We're better off letting Alibaba handle mainland China for us."

Even working with a local company doesn't guarantee smooth sailing. This month, for example, Yahoo China was nailed by allegations regarding online porn. A government-backed watchdog, the Internet Society of China (ICS), has ordered Yahoo China to get rid of pornographic content appearing on a photo-sharing site it hosted.

And even with help from Alibaba, Yahoo China is only the sixth most-popular internet portal in China, according to CR-Nielsen, far behind local competitors such as, and Tencent's

While giving up control of its business in such a vast internet market wasn't an easy decision for Yahoo, executives are quick to point out that virtually none of its rivals like Google, Ebay and Microsoft Corp. are market leaders in their respective segments in China.

Foreign companies are dogged by censorship constraints. Plus "local companies are so strong," Ms. Tsou said.

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