Yahoo: Crisis? What Crisis?

Yahoo Dora Michail smallerDavid Murphy talks to Dora Michail, senior director, Audience Solutions at Yahoo EMEA. 

Sitting through a series of entertaining presentations at Yahoo’s IAB Upfronts event earlier this week, it struck me that you could be forgiven for thinking that you were in the presence of a different Yahoo. Not the one that has endured such a horrible time and such bad press these past few months, but one for whom the future looks bright and business is good. The mood was relentlessly upbeat, and with a couple of hundred media types in the room, Yahoo clearly still has pulling power.  It was a point I put to Dora Michail, Yahoo’s senior director, Audience Solutions for EMEA, when I spoke to her after the event.

“We live the brand and the business, and we genuinely believe we have fantastic products, so we are proud when we talk about them,” she said. “On a day-to-day basis we are doing a good job and that is reflected in the partnerships we have with our clients. So when you talk to them, they are not that fussed about what’s in the press. What they care about is the results we can deliver for them. We are only as good as the performance of our products, and on that basis, our relationships are good.”

First-party data
When I last spoke to someone senior at Yahoo, I got a sense of frustration that the value of the company’s first-party data is not appreciated widely enough and the constant references to this data during the presentations suggested nothing much has changed.

“Data is the central point of value in what we do; it underpins everything we do,” Michail told me. “We have ridiculously clever people running things from that perspective, and it’s our aim to ensure that people understand the power of the data we have. We are a challenger to Facebook and Google, we know that. But we are a viable third option from a scale perspective. There are very few players with 1bn or more users so we’re proud of that.”

During the event, Yahoo had been keen to talk about the insights it gets from the data it holds on its Yahoo Mail users, noting that 10m people use the platform each day. This data is available to advertisers through Yahoo’s Brightroll DSP.

The company was also keen to shout about the 26 per cent year-on-year increase in H1 ad revenues, and about the success of its native ad formats, which launched in EMEA in May 2014, and now account for 41 per cent of its ad revenues. Why, I asked Michail, had native become so important so quickly?

“As consumers have shifted from desktop to mobile, we have been thinking about the way users interact with content on devices,” she told me. “Display ads on mobile can be quite lacking in inspiration, but with native, the ad will render as the user scrolls. It’s in keeping with the look and feel of the content and works really well from a user engagement perspective. I think users are OK with advertising so long as it’s not disruptive, and native isn’t.”

Brand engagement
And what type of advertisers are we talking about? “We are seeing brand becoming more important versus performance,” Michail told me. “Originally we saw interest from heavy search buyers wanting to diversify their search portfolio, but brand and brand engagement are becoming more important, and brands are experimenting more and more. That said, we still need to see more dollars spent on mobile advertising to help bridge the gap between time spent on mobile and ad spend on mobile.”

So with Verizon’s deal to buy Yahoo for what several outlets described as “chump change” ($4.8bn in round numbers), unless rumours of Verizon getting cold feet after Yahoo’s recent data breach revelation are true, what next?

“The future for us is business as usual,” Michail said. “We are focused on our core products – mobile, video, native, social. We will continue to invest, and from the advertising perspective, I think it’s going to be an incredibly interesting year, not just for us, but for the whole market, as consolidation continues. I’m excited to see what happens.”