May 19, 2003 9:52 AM PDT

Yahoo searches for the public eye

Yahoo on Monday began blanketing billboards, radio and TV in major U.S. cities to promote its newly updated Web search technology, a move aimed at recapturing ground lost to rival Google and attracting new visitors.

The Web giant is shelling out an undisclosed sum to widely advertise its search capabilities for the first time in the company's eight-year history, according to Jennifer Dulski, director of marketing for Search and Marketplace at Yahoo. The campaign is meant to evangelize Yahoo's new search site, unveiled in early April, which packs more information in query results as well as links to advertisers' products and services.

"Search is a top priority for Yahoo," Dulski said. "This campaign is meant to reinforce the strong association that consumers have between the Yahoo brand and search in every aspect of their life--home, work and school."

The campaign punctuates Yahoo's renewed commitment to Web search, one of the hottest markets for technology innovation and advertising sales. Sales from commercial search are expected to soar from $2 billion in 2003 to $7 billion within four years, according to investment firm U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray.

Even though Yahoo--an acronym for "Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle"--started out as a comprehensive guide of links to the Web, the company had not made search technology a priority for the past several years. Instead, it has focused on building out its set of consumer services. Yet, Yahoo, Microsoft, America Online and others have woken up to the fact that people increasingly turn to Google for its simple design and crackerjack search results. Google has become so popular it's inspired a renaissance in search innovation, with all the major portals and navigation sites investing in technology developments and ad sales related to search.

"The game right now is for everybody to keep their unique users and not lose them to other sites that are improving their search technology," said Denise Garcia, an analyst at research firm GartnerG2. That's true "especially for Yahoo as it tries to sell additional premium services and attract as many new users as possible," she said.

Americans conduct an estimated 790 million searches per week, according to research from ComScore Media Metrix. Yahoo, which commands about 26 percent of the U.S. market, clearly wants a bigger cut of the pie.

Paramount to Yahoo's marketing campaign is an Internet-connected billboard in Times Square, which will reaches up the side of a 22-story building. The billboard will flash live search queries from people in cities around the country, including San Francisco, Honolulu and New York. It's meant to give onlookers a snapshot of current interests in particular cities, according to Yahoo. Yahoo does not have a similar voyeuristic feature on its Web site, however.

The company also will begin airing TV commercials on national and cable networks, including MTV and Lifetime, and broadcast radio ads during peak work-commute hours. It will advertise itself on the Web through sites such as Salon.com and USAToday.com. Most of the ads feature people holding a 5-foot search box.

The ad campaign was designed and executed by San Francisco-based advertising agency Black Rocket.

 

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