Yahoo! PR events sing with the Yodel Challenge

Yahoo! PR events sing with the Yodel Challenge

Joanna Stevens

Having successfully turned itself around by focusing on new revenue-generating services, Yahoo!, a leading global Internet company, challenged its public relations team to create a program that would reinforce its brand. While Yahoo!’s brand awareness was exceptionally strong, internal research showed that increased advertising by competitors in 2002 and a lack of brand-specific communication support had the potential to negatively affect what was at the time the Internet’s strongest brand.

The company’s signature yodel (“Yah–hoo–oo!”), the audio tag on its ads that has become synonymous with the brand, symbolizes the fun, open, independent experience that people want from the Internet. The PR team embraced the Yahoo! yodel and organized the Yahoo! Yodel Challenge, a contest to find America’s favorite amateur yodeler, with a grand prize of appearing in an upcoming advertisement and US$10,000. This dynamic solution to Yahoo!’s marketing needs tapped into people’s desire to achieve their “15 minutes of flame.”


Yahoo!’s research indicated the need to reinforce the brand characteristics of innovative, trustworthy and fun, as well as to support the overarching marketing communication message “Do you Yahoo!?” The team, specifically Yahoo! and PR agency Fleishman-Hillard, set the following objectives and targets for the Challenge:

* Increase positive brand perceptions.

* Encourage consumers to enter the competition and secure 270 to 450 entries.

* Drive traffic to the Yahoo! Yodel Challenge microsite and log 1 million page views.

* Generate media coverage to promote awareness of the Challenge and the Yahoo! Yodel among target audiences, and secure 25 million impressions in media outlets (not including radio station promotions).

With these goals in mind, the team developed a series of strategies and tactics that not only reinforced the brand, but also created a buzz throughout the U.S.

Solution and implementation

The PR team turned the Yahoo! Yodel Challenge into a transportable, visual and newsworthy event that personified Yahoo!’s brand attributes. The program was divided into two parts: the search, and then the announcement of the winning yodeler.

A two-hour event, in which auditions and finals were conducted, was held in eight markets. The markets–New York City; San Francisco; Kansas City, Missouri; Chicago; Seattle; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Los Angeles; and Austin, Texas–were chosen based on criteria that included geographic diversity, media friendliness, and the availability of a central, busy location where the Yahoo! team could attract passing crowds. There was also an online component through which users could submit a video if they weren’t able to attend an event in person.

Expert yodeler and country music singer Wylie Gustafson, who delivers the Yahoo! yodel in the company’s commercials, was tapped to emcee the events and deliver brand messages in all communications including pre- and post-event publicity.

At each event, contestants were asked to perform the Yahoo! yodel and then a “freestyle” yodel of their choice. Maximum branding was achieved at each event through signage, not to mention all that yodeling!

Three winners were chosen in each market, including the online video submissions. The winning performances were then posted on a special microsite at, where users voted for their raw, rite in each market. The yodeler who received the most votes in each market received an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City for the finals.

One of the best parts of the program was giving Yahoo!’s strongest audience–its users–the opportunity to play a part in the program, both through participation in the events and voting for the finalists.

For media strategy, the team identified local pre-event media opportunities as the strongest, with actual events providing additional prospects. Most of the coverage would come during the search phase of the Challenge, so the team negotiated with the syndicated TV show Livin’ It Up with Ali & Jack to announce the winner on the program. The overall timing of the program was a crucial part of the media strategy, with the event set to take place in August and early September when other news was likely to He light. Four of the eight market events took place in the weeks leading up to and during Labor Day weekend.

Broadcast television was a natural fit because of the visual and aural nature of the events, and the team achieved local market broadcast coverage for all events, as well as significant national coverage thanks to network feeds from TV stations in Seattle and Los Angeles. In each market, the PR team offered media interviews with Gustafson and the opportunity to teach local broadcasters how to yodel. Following each event, the team produced b-roll footage and sent it to local TV stations to increase the opportunity for coverage on the evening news. (The Challenge was part of ESPN’s Sports-Center’s “Top 10 Plays of the Day”–twice!)

Yahoo! brought together the top finalists from each of the markets and the online/video entries in New York City. The winning yodeler, 9-year-old Taylor Ware from Tennessee, was announced live on Livin’ It Up with Ali & Jack. The 10-minute segment included significant branding by the presenters, including Yahoo! yodels. Due to the national interest in the Challenge, footage of the finalists was distributed via satellite that day, resulting in additional pickups in major markets.

The events were such a success and generated such enthusiasm among Yahoo! employees that they spurred an extension of the program: On 19 November 2003, 1,773 Yahoo! employees smashed the record for the world’s largest simultaneous yodel (the previous record was held by 937 Swiss and German yodelers).

Measurement and evaluation

The Yahoo! Yodel Challenge exceeded expectations in every area. The program increased positive brand perceptions, logged 1.5 million page views on the Yahoo! Yodel Challenge microsite, and secured 400 competition entries and 80 million media impressions. Conservative estimates put crowds of at least 500 at each event. Overall, the Challenge achieved outstanding results for the company and reached beyond the targeted media into the entertainment world.

Beating event competition

The Yahoo! Yodel events were held during the summer, in high-traffic locations. While most events had plenty of foot traffic and participants, some had quite a bit of competition on the same day. To ensure participation, a variety of tactics was put into place. For each city, the team created a “call to action” poster that was distributed to coffee shops and art houses, to encourage local residents to enter the competition and come to the show. In addition, interviews with local television and radio stations were booked one day prior to the event to spread the word. More than 400 people around the U.S. entered the Yahoo! Yodel Challenge.–J. S.

Joanna Stevens is vice president of corporate communications for Yahoo! Inc.

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