Yahoo: debasing the brand to save it?

Fortune, unchastened in its shameless sucking up to CEO’s, is running a puff piece about Terry Semel at Yahoo. The story suggests that he’s really shaking things up by doing a deal with Overture and buying HotJobs.

By early this summer the partnership was responsible for an estimated 10% of Yahoo’s $226 million in second-quarter revenues–all with Yahoo’s barely lifting a finger or spending a dime.
So it’s no surprise why Yahoo did the deal: The listings are a rare bright spot in another year of advertising malaise. One question: Why didn’t Yahoo do this earlier?
The answer, says Yahoo CEO Terry Semel, has a lot to do with Yahoo’s vision of itself during the bubble. “In addition to doing a lot of great things, Yahoo had a sense of arrogance, of we-invented-this,” he says, fiddling with his silver-rimmed glasses. “If we are going to succeed, we have to have people with different attitudes.”

It’s not clear how the Overture deal is bolder than Yahoo’s original search deal with Altavista, or how buying HotJobs is different from buying Geocities or 411.
And in a more thoughtful article in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), the advertising market is dismissed by (also unchastened) Wall Street analysts hungry for breakthrough services. Supposedly, Yahoo’s stock is supposedly suffering as a result. But it has outperformed the S&P 500, AOL/TW, the AMEX Internet Index, and DoubleClick this year.
Both articles highlight Yahoo’s upcoming broadband ISP deal with SBC as an important test of Semel’s leadership and Yahoo’s viability. But SBC is the ISP in this relationship. Yahoo is providing some (generic) services — a Yahoo browser a 125 megabytes of e-mail storage — and its (unique) brand to the deal. At its heart this kind of licensing deal is the equivalent of looking for change in your sofa cushions.
Until Yahoo recognizes that

  • “Yahoo” one of the most important brands on the Net.
  • Paid consumer services and brand-licensing deals are only going to provide marginal revenue, and only if Yahoo maintains its brand.
  • Its core businesses are its portal, advertising, and online services and they are badly in need of a makeover.
  • Broadband is a distraction from its core business.

… the full, extraordinary value of the Yahoo brand will never be realized.