Will Yahoo!’s billion dollar spending spree save it from the ashes?

If a company had a mission to make ‘the world’s daily habits more inspiring and entertaining’, what would you say that means and would you know which business it referred to?

Lucy Handley

The brand is Yahoo!, a company that has been on a $2bn acquisition spree, if the reported figures are accurate. But I’m afraid its mission is unclear and possibly misleading – most people’s daily habits are either bad ones or those that don’t need inspiration.

Chief executive Marissa Mayer’s comment on her Tumblr page ‘We promise not to screw it up’ is more like it, in terms of tone of voice if not vision. She’s referring to the $1.1bn it splashed out for the blogging site last week, buying it from 26-year-old David Karp, who remains as CEO.

I can’t remember the last time I visited Yahoo!’s home page prior to this week in the name of research. It is fairly standard with news and views and the UK site has prominent Virgin Media advertising. Its finance and news microsites are better, but some of the lifestyle sections are barely more than advertorials – not really inspiring or entertaining. But Mayer knows it needs to up its game if it is to compete with giants like Facebook or Google – although the former could be stuttering, according to Mark Ritson.

Karp also thinks there has been too much focus on social media, telling the Financial Times: “If people don’t keep showing up, the value is decreased for everyone.” His argument is that creative media will be the way forward: websites like his that allow people to express themselves.

At the time of going to press, Yahoo! was also said to be bidding $800m for video service Hulu, in addition to the reported $30m it recently paid for content app Summly.

Buying Hulu would make the quality of its video sites better – and should be good for search engine optimisation. Tumblr is obviously its leap into social media, or ‘creative media’ as Karp calls it and Summly will up its mobile credentials. These acquisitions are clearly focused on good content, which is what websites should be about. (For more on how branded content can be put to best use by b2b brands, see our special report this week which will be online later today).

I’m a fan of mission statements only if they actually mean something. ‘We promise not to screw it up’ is real language. First, Yahoo! needs to decide what it is really there for and then use that phrase as a filter for everything it does.

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