In September 2009, Yahoo’s then-CEO Carol Bartz introduced a new global branding campaign at a high-profile event in New York City. Always one to speak her mind, she told reporters that they were too skeptical about her company’s mission and prospects.
“When you get outside of New York City and Silicon Valley, everybody loves Yahoo,” she said. “I just want to transplant all you guys out of this sort of cynicism you’re in. I mean, why are you cynical about us? Be cynical about frickin’ Google. Leave us alone.”
Bartz left Yahoo two years later, after failing to revive its fortunes, but the company still maintains the belief that its core audience exists in the “great middle” between the West Coast and the Northeast: in a keynote talk at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, David Pogue (Yahoo’s freshly minted technology columnist) suggested that the new “Yahoo Tech” Website—a key part of the company’s latest rebranding—would be targeted at “normal” people as opposed to “gearheads.”
Based on a map that flashed on the giant screen behind him, which showed the “normals” clustered in the middle of the country (and the “gearheads” restricted to the coasts), it’s clear that Pogue—and by extension, Yahoo—is rocking a variation of that old Carol Bartz playbook, the softly divisive one that tries to equate Yahoo’s brands with some sort of mythical “middlebrow” audience that exists within clearly defined borders:
(During his presentation, Pogue also flashed a slide that made fun of competing tech-news brands: The Verge was rendered as “The Urge,” for example, while Gizmodo became “Gizmoody.” The parody didn’t make much sense on the surface, but Yahoo is clearly seeking to differentiate itself—by whatever means necessary—from other media brands out there.)
The problem is that rigid audience of “normals” doesn’t exist, at least not in the way that Yahoo envisions. Large numbers of well-educated technology consumers—“gearheads,” in Pogue’s parlance—exist all over the country; to say otherwise is like suggesting that Wyoming is 100 percent Republican, or that everybody who lives in Florida hates snow. Also, peoples’ technology tastes and aptitudes aren’t monolithic—the 13-year-old who cares nothing about a tech company’s CEO succession battle might exhibit an aptitude and hunger for learning about mobile-app development. In other words, Yahoo’s approach to tech content isn’t merely schismatic; it’s willfully unaware of the variety that exists among technology fans.
Images: Yahoo, @dannysullivan