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Yahoo pitches Madison Avenue with 'Mad Men'*

September 24, 2008 |  4:23 pm

It's apt to get attention when you pitch your digital advertising system to Madison Avenue with everyone's favorite pitchman: Jon Hamm, who plays the hard-drinking and hard-living Don Draper on the Emmy-award-winning, critically acclaimed television series "Mad Men."

Jon Hamm with Yahoo executives That's just what Yahoo did today at a press conference in New York, part of the annual New York Advertising Week festivities. Hamm joined Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang and President Sue Decker to talk up its digital advertising system, APT (formerly known as AMP). They didn't light up any Lucky Strikes, but they struck a positive note while making their case for APT, which they say makes it easier and faster to buy online ads by eliminating many of the steps. They also announced that the San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News would be the first to begin using the service.

It was a message apt to get less attention than the one Yang dispatched to Yahoo employees Tuesday. In an e-mail, Yang said the troubled Internet company had hired Bain & Co. to "improve efficiencies," i.e., cut costs, and likely, jobs -- a decision that analysts say is necessary, particularly after Yahoo rebuffed would-be suitor Microsoft. As spending on online advertising falls off, Yahoo is under more pressure than ever to grow revenue, they say. Yahoo continues to lose search ad market share to Google and display ad market share to other competitors.

In a statement, Yahoo said: "Yahoo has been exploring ways to streamline our processes and bring new agility and efficiency to how we work as an organization. As part of this effort, we have engaged Bain & Co. to help us identify opportunities for improvement. This work is well underway, with the ultimate goal of positioning Yahoo to achieve long-term, sustainable growth."

As for job cuts: "It would be premature to speculate about possible headcount reductions."

Yahoo first started talking up APT in April. The system got a boost from Yahoo's acquisition of Right Media, an advertising exchange. It competes with AOL's Platform A, which earlier this week added its own exchange called BidPlace. Google, which rose to dominance with text ads, bought DoubleClick to make inroads in display advertising and is also taking aim at newspapers and other media.

APT offers partners a targeting technology to sell more relevant ads on their own websites and eventually to sell advertising on the sites of other partners. Yahoo aims to recruit hundreds of newspapers by year's end and then to open up the system to others, said Mike Walrath, senior vice president of Yahoo's advertising marketplaces group. He founded Right Media.

"Today there are tremendous inefficiencies in how display ads are bought and sold," he said. "What we are providing is a platform that streamlines how our partners do business."

Hamm remarked that the characters on "Mad Men," with the explosion of television advertising in the early 1960s, faced similar challenges to the ones publishers today face with the digital advertising boom. And Yang underscored that point in a blog post.

With great challenge comes great opportunity. UBS analyst Benjamin Schachter likened this opportunity to Google's in search advertising. And, he said, dominating online display advertising is Yahoo's opportunity to lose. "Given Yahoo's execution history, we are concerned that they could lose it," he wrote in a research note. "This will all come down to execution; if Yahoo executes, the market opportunity could be significant."

In the face of such skepticism, Yang is talking a good game. He wrote: "If only Sterling Cooper could be here to reap the benefits."

-- Jessica Guynn

Photo: From left, Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang, actor Jon Hamm and Yahoo President Sue Decker. Credit: Jeffrey Holmes

* A previous version of this post credited the photograph to the Associated Press.

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