Yahoo Shows Brand Advertising Muscle with New Mini-Sites

Direct response ad king Google may be hinting at creating more viable options for big brand advertisers, but Yahoo is already there. The company’s latest plan to build online environments dedicated to entertainment brands is no exception. Recognizing users often convene around TV shows, films and games, the portal has begun building content hubs centered on the most popular among them.

The publisher is shaking up the traditional branded entertainment model, however: It hasn’t solicited a cent from these companies to create its “brand universes.”

The first of a proposed hundred such mini-sites connects several disparate Yahoo properties and applications. Yahoo Games visitors will stumble upon a branded locale focused on all things Nintendo Wii, including a buyer’s guide, store locater, Ebay auctions, a message board and Wii-related Yahoo Answers posts.

Since the recent public leak of an internal memo, Yahoo has elicited much speculation over its ability to unify the tools and content areas it’s developed and acquired over the years, and the branded site plan is one manifestation of that potential.

“This just makes it tangible — the value of having all these assets and being able to integrate them,” Yahoo’s head of games, entertainment and youth, Vince Broady, told ClickZ News

User-submitted videos in the new section show game aficionados as they queued up in the wee hours to snag the coveted Wii, along with players testing their prowess on newly-scored systems. The branded site’s homepage highlights Flickr photos along with MyWeb- and del.icio.us-enabled blog posts tagged with keyword “Wii.” Users can test out a featured Wii game, and suit up their Yahoo Avatars with virtual Wii-related accoutrements.

But there’s no paid Nintendo branding to be found. Instead, ads for Ubisoft Entertainment’s “Rayman Raving Rabbids” game and an upcoming flick featuring Jack Black and Cameron Diaz abound.

“Ninety-five percent of the impressions there are from Ubisoft,” said Broady. “There will be specific advertisers associated with [the mini-sites],” he added. “[Advertisers are] not going to accidentally end up in one of these areas.” Yahoo also anticipates charging higher CPM rates for inclusion in the sections than it does elsewhere.

Creating a space based on the Nintendo brand was “the single best choice we could make,” said Broady. “We had indication that the Wii would capture the popular imagination….It also has user-generated potential,” he added, noting the physical interaction component of the games would inspire people to capture their playing on video. In addition to the CGM video possibilities, the decision to focus on television and film brands also will create “a huge opportunity for video to play a big part in the equation,” in terms of content and in-stream advertising, continued Broady.

“We undertook this initiative to try to understand the brands our users really care about; we’re putting the users first,” he said. The publisher hopes the brands themselves and other endemic advertisers, such as retailers or game development firms, will opt to buy in the new sections. “There’s a whole ecosystem of advertisers that can serve as an advertiser pool,” said Broady. Competitor brands, however, will not be invited. “Our goal is to have these areas really celebrate these brands and provide a window into them that is pure,” he continued.

Though there’s no detailed timeline for when subsequent sites will launch, a Yahoo spokesperson told ClickZ News the company aims to develop 100 sites in the next year, all of them spotlighting “key entertainment brands” or “uber brands.” Think popular and cult television and film hits or TV channels appealing to specific affinity groups.

Broady reportedly told the audience at a digital media conference earlier this week Yahoo hopes to attract 13- to 34-year-olds through the program. He added future plans include opening the initiative to include other “passion brands” outside the entertainment arena.

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