Why the F%#& should we care about Yahoo's "30 Days of Change"?

On corporate communication, logos as emblems, and showing how the sausage gets made

August 13, 2013
Jonathan Libov

In case you missed it, Yahoo! is celebrating the introduction of their new brand identity with a 30-day countdown of variations to their logo. If you're reading this in August 2013, you'll find today's variation on their homepage.

While the title gives away where this post is going, let’s first indulge in fashioning the most earnest, genuine reason why any of us should be interested in what some have called a “marketing gimmick”. I'll be more generous and call it an "outreach". Here’s my best attempt in formulating Yahoo’s outreach in the most earnest way possible:

Among those who have already noticed Yahoo’s “renewed sense of purpose and progress”, the 30-day outreach is a means to celebrate the revival of one of the modern internet’s original innovators. Unlike Microsoft’s or Blackberry’s seeming denial that anything has gone wrong the last few years, Yahoo is admirably acknowledging their past failures — e.g., the neglect of a once-beloved Flickr. This logo change is the fulcrum for the revival of the Yahoo we once loved.

For those who never knew Yahoo! during its rise in the early aughts — most notably, the hundreds of millions of teenage users it acquired through the Tumblr acquisition — this is the introduction of a different kind of company. An iconoclastic yet playful company that’s not afraid to spill its guts on a Tumblr in the same manner as its users.

Sounds convincing, right? To pick this apart, for better or worse, we have to remind ourselves of a corporate logos’ job-to-be-done. That is, why do logos exist? Why are they important? And what is a consumer's relationship with a logo?

Go team!

Let's take the most clear-cut example of what a logo can mean to someone. My favorite sports team is the Miami Dolphins. If I catch even a glimpse of their logo out of the corner of my eye, it evokes all kinds of positive memories and irrational hopes for the future, even though our team has consistently let me down for most of the last decade. And conversely, when I view the logos of the Dolphins rivals, the New York Jets and New England Patriots, I'm filled with all kinds of angry thoughts that are not appropriate for this blog.

We often root for companies in a similar fashion to sports teams. And corporate logos, like sports logos, immediately impart a sense of who we're rooting for. Consider that:

  • “Fanboyism” is real. We root for the success of the platform we’ve adopted. When I see an Apple logo, it unfailingly grabs my attention.

  • Likewise, as someone who's personally invested in the Apple platform, I gristle when I see the Android logo. I can't help it.

  • Many of us root for or against a company's performance in the stock market, even if we're not invested and no matter how many degrees of separation there are between a company’s quarterly earnings report and the products we get to use.

Yahoo wants us to join their team, to root for them to succeed. With "30 Days of Change", they're hoping that by participating in the formative period of their renaissance, we will have some emotional investment in their success. Yet the overexposure of "30 Days of Change" is making it awfully difficult for us to do so.

Keeping Score

What makes "30 Days of Change" strange is that Yahoo! hasn’t even yet rolled out any of the innovative new products that will fall under the new corporate identity. Since Marissa Mayer’s arrival they’ve been acquiring talent in order to build those products. Why should we be interested in the branding of a new Yahoo that we haven’t even seen yet? Their Tumblr cites “a renewed sense of purpose and progress at Yahoo!” as motivation for the logo change, but it's not as if we had all already concluded that ourselves.

Where I think this campaign goes wrong is that they're showing us how the sausage gets made. By exposing some of the thought process that goes behind a logo change, they might be intending to be transparent and playful, but it has the unintended effect of feeling corporate and calculating. While I admire Marissa Mayer's transparency — following Yahoo's acquisition of Tumblr, she famously promised "not to screw it up" — there are limits to its appeal.

Moreover, as a colleague of mine once put it, "consistency is the essence of branding". Instead of introducing one logo as the new face of Yahoo, they're actually implanting trace memories of 30 Yahoo's that almost were.

Show us who you've chosen to be, Yahoo, not who you almost might have sorta been aspiring to be.