Yahoo's Holiday Baggage-Fee Stunt Could Hold the Key to Its Future

Last week, Yahoo (YHOO) pulled off a brilliant holiday stunt as part of its year-end do-gooder campaign called "You In?" The idea was simple and effective: On Dec. 23, the company paid the baggage fees of travelers going through San Francisco International and San Jose International airports, according to gesture may accomplish more than simply creating goodwill within the hearts of weary holiday travelers (which it did, as seen in this tweet and photo from one of those who benefited from the program). The effort underscores the premise of Yahoo's fundamental mission -- easing life's navigation -- in a real way that the company's current marketing campaign fails to match.

%%DynaPub-Enhancement class="enhancement contentType-HTML Content fragmentId-1 payloadId-61603 alignment-right size-small"%% The company's current $100 million campaign, which uses the tagline "It's Y!ou," is splashed everywhere, yet one could argue that it fails to match the impact of Yahoo's low-tech baggage-fee maneuver. The expensive ad campaign aims to convince users that Yahoo will put you in charge of the Internet, but the ads lack both bite and humor. (Contrast them, for example, to the whimsical and memorable "search stories" ads for Google (GOOG), which shows a clever series of search queries and results for Batman, a teen switching high schools, and a grandparent learning how to use the Web, among others.)

Yahoo's baggage-fee-payment idea wasn't part of its marketing campaign, although a Yahoo spokesman tells DailyFinance that the idea was to complement the brand's message by "encouraging people to contribute time, energy, money to causes and efforts that are personally relevant to them."

So far, it's unclear if Yahoo's "It's Y!ou" campaign is making much of an impact on consumers: Microsoft's (MSFT) Bing search site is eating into Yahoo's business, according to comScore, and as reported on DailyFinance. Perhaps the company's executives should ponder the efficacy of the campaign this week, when Yahoo told employees to either take vacation or unpaid days as part of a cost-reduction effort.

Another idea to chew over during this holiday week's shut-down: What if Yahoo expanded the baggage-fee program to more airports during the next big travel day? And why stop at airports? Why not post Yahoo employees in New York City's subways to help with directions, or to purchase MetroCards for riders. A tactic like that might reach thousands of consumers, who might then tweet, blog or post positive items about Yahoo. Tie the corporate do-goodism to a message that's in sync with Yahoo's search mission, and it might just grab more attention than its current bland ads ever could.
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