New Yahoo! Messenger Incorporates Viral Marketing

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

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

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

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