New Yahoo! Messenger Incorporates Viral Marketing

  |  October 22, 2001   |  Comments

The latest personalization features on Yahoo! Messenger lets usersexpress their affinity for entertainment products.

Internet media giant Yahoo on Monday released the latest version of its instant messenger program, with new capabilities for themed backgrounds that offer opportunities for marketing partners.

The new backgrounds, dubbed "IMVironments," allow users to choose what appears in the instant messenger window behind the text. When one user chooses a background, it is also seen by the person with whom the user is communicating.

So far, Dilbert, Garbage, Nintendo of America, Peanuts, and Sanrio have signed on to offer IMVironments themed to fit their entertainment products. Besides incorporating images that appear in the background, these themes can include streaming audio, links to video and specialized emoticons. When people choose a theme, they are essentially helping companies market themselves by showing their affinity for a particular product. Theoretically, that marketing would be more effective because it is transmitted virally from friend to friend.

The Garbage IMVironment, for example, shows the Garbage logo at the top of the IM screen, and photos of the band members appear in a slide show on the right. Right inside the IM window, users can choose to hear streaming audio of the band's new single, link to a video, or link to buy the album. The "Hello Kitty" IMVironment shows the cat character standing in front of a house, as animated clouds float over her head. People using the theme can also tap into "Hello Kitty"-themed emoticons -- rather than the usual generic smiley faces, cat faces appear.

"The Sanrio experience is all about friends communicating with friends. Instant messaging is just that, empowering them to stay in touch and share a frequent 'hello,'" said Bill Hensley, Sanrio marketing director said in a statement. "As a featured Yahoo Messenger IMVironment, Hello Kitty adds her special charm to this new viral technology, helping friends speak from the heart. The Yahoo-Sanrio marketing partnership is extremely beneficial to our business by delivering our characters and brands directly to our target audience."

With the growth in the popularity of instant messaging applications, the big players -- AOL, MSN, and Yahoo -- have been working to introduce features that distinguish their service from the others. Yahoo, for example, recently introduced video conferencing capabilities to its application.

Additionally, marketers have been seeking ways to take advantage of the audience glued to IM applications. So far, besides banner ads on the application itself, there have been several creative efforts. Start-up Active Buddy has inked deals with partners like Capitol Records and Keebler, which allow them to market online through interactive "bots" on all three major services. AOL has introduced "buddy icons" that let users sport images from popular entertainment; and Yahoo has released customized co-branded versions of its IM application. The Yahoo IMVironments, which it says is patent-pending, is the latest development along those lines.

"With the introduction of IMVironments, we are the first to offer a truly interactive instant messaging experience, and have created an innovative new way to use Yahoo Messenger as a complete viral marketing solution," said Lisa Pollock, director of messaging products at Yahoo. "IMVironments offer our users a level of personalization that is not available through any other instant messaging service, and at the same time, provides a new means for companies to reach their target audience."

Yahoo says its users sent more than 5.5 billion messages in September 2001, an increase of 115 percent from last year. According to Media Metrix figures, Yahoo Messenger use has increased by 43 percent over the past six months.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pamela Parker

Pamela Parker is a former managing editor of ClickZ News, Features, and Experts. She's been covering interactive advertising and marketing since the boom days of 1999, chronicling the dot-com crash and the subsequent rise of the medium. Before working at ClickZ, Parker was associate editor at @NY, a pioneering Web site and e-mail newsletter covering New York new media start-ups. Parker received a master's degree in journalism, with a concentration in new media, from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

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