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Yahoo's New Logo Design: Micromanaged, Over-Engineered, Boring.

A non-story about hype, disappointment, and how not to redo a logo.
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Yahoo’s announcement of a new brand logo may be the biggest non-news story of the recent past. After teasing the marketing community for months, the technology giant's new logo unveiling reminds me of Geraldo Rivera's live, prime-time unearthing of Al Capone’s buried safe. There’s nothing there.

Let me be more direct. The new Yahoo logo looks almost exactly like the old Yahoo logo. 


We all know why: It's thanks to Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer.

Micromanager nightmare-bosses piss people off.

According to published reports, the new logo wasn’t designed by a top corporate identification firm. Instead, a company spokesman says, the work was handled by "an in-house brand design group and product designers." Uh-oh. That tells me one thing: Mayer herself was micromanaging every font, shape, and size, as well as the new logo's ever-so-slightly darker shade of purple.

That sort of absurd attention to minutiae is exactly what Mayer did when Yahoo changed the color of Yahoo Mail.

According to excerpts of a soon-to-be-published book, an in-house Yahoo team had worked for months before deciding the new color scheme would be blue and gray. Then, at the eleventh hour, Mayer called a meeting, and told the group she wanted purple and yellow instead. That last-second re-direct meant round-the-clock work by the entire team. The collateral damage was significant: The lead Yahoo Mail designer quit and took up with Google and the Yahoo Mail product manager fled for Disney.

It's a pattern.

Mayer’s been positively obsessed with micromanaging for decades. She apparently reviewed every single pixel of every user interface upgrade when she worked at Google. As was the case with Yahoo Mail, several key executives left Google as a result and, says the book’s author, Mayer was demoted.

The controversial CEO’s engineering-based obsession extends far beyond products and Yahoo Mail and logo redesigns. She reportedly also insisted upon personally reviewing each, and every, reporter’s name on Yahoo’s media list. She also told the chief marketing officer which Yahoo executives could, and couldn’t, speak on behalf of the company. That’s Mayer’s right, of course, but I’ve never encountered any Inc. 500 chief executive getting that far down into the weeds.

Why did Marissa Mayer bother in the first place?

That degree of obsession also explains why the Yahoo logo is a non-story. It’s a bore. It looks just like its predecessor. Why? Because it was created by product designers and engineers.

That’s akin to asking a heart surgeon to review a legal brief (or, a lawyer to insert a stent in the carotid artery). It just doesn’t make sense. An engineer like Mayer might notice a new typeface and a slightly darker shade of purple (and take great delight in such subtleties). But the new logo doesn’t communicate any sort of new vision, purpose, or meaning to the brand. So: Why bother in the first place?

One other observation: A logo re-design shouldn’t be introduced in a one-off fashion. It should be a key component in a professionally planned and executed marketing campaign that also includes a new vision and mission statement, a new corporate positioning, a customer value proposition, and a corporate nomenclature and architecture, etc.

Interestingly, the logo came in the wake of:

  • Ms. Mayer’s high-profile feature in Vogue
  • Ms. Mayer’s highly controversial decision to end telecommuting
  • Ms. Mayer’s decision to buy several, smaller technology companies that have yet to turn a profit.

So, to paraphrase an old tagline from Wendy’s: Where’s the strategy?

Compare Yahoo!'s new design to best-in-class logos.

Compare the new Yahoo logo with three classic, beautifully executed before-and-after logo designs, each of which was part of a larger re-branding campaign, for Quark, Jack in the Box, and Walmart.


Smart marketers think in broad-brush strokes. Engineers focus on every detail. I wouldn’t want a marketer designing a jet engine. But, I also wouldn’t want a math professor re-crafting Peppercomm’s logo.

Marissa Mayer needs to let go, and to let the right people do the right jobs. In this case, creative design specialists--preferably a corporate identification firm such as Landor Associates--not engineers.  

IMAGE: Flickr/
Last updated: Sep 5, 2013

STEVE CODY | Columnist

I'm a climber, comedian, and dog lover. But not necessarily in that order. I also happen to be co-founder and CEO of Peppercomm, a strategic communications firm headquartered in NYC, with offices in San Francisco and London. I publish RepMan, a daily blog, and have had the opportunity to appear on CNBC, MSNBC, NPR, and a host of other top-tier media over the years. scody@peppercomm.com

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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