The end of an era: The Yahoo! billboard comes down.
It’s been a San Francisco icon for more than a decade. It’s graced our skyline through the dot.com boom and bust. And it’s one of the most recognizable pieces of advertising the city has seen in a long time. But the San Francisco Egotist has learned that in two weeks, the Yahoo! billboard will be no longer. Jon Charles, Vice President and General Sales Manager for Clear Channel Outdoor in San Francisco confirmed, “Yes, the Yahoo! board will be available starting in December 2011.”
So how did such a distinctive board come about in the first place? Who created it? And what will San Francisco lose when it’s gone? Steve Stone was the Co-Creative Director and Robert Boyce was the Media Director at Black Rocket – the agency that brought the Yahoo! yodel into existence (among other memorable advertising). They told us the history of the Yahoo! billboard.
Steve: Black Rocket was only a couple years old and dot.com was everywhere. We were turning down business left and right. But my partners and I had an agreement we would meet with everyone in person. Typically we would know within 10 minutes if we wanted to work with them. There were a lot of companies digging for gold.
Robert: We were in an interesting time for media, especially high profile outdoor. The tobacco companies were being forced to relinquish their boards, which they had held for years. Saturn had famously grabbed several of these the year or two prior when they came up. Now the dot.coms were starting to throw money at any high-profile media opportunity that popped up. Although our client, Karen, had no interest in doing an outdoor "campaign", I had been wanting to find something special for them ¬– a board that could serve as a physical presence. At the time I had no idea what that may turn out to be creatively, but I was working with some of the best talent in that area, so I just focused on finding the board. I made all of the companies aware of my desire and waited about a year for the right board to come up. That is how rare it was at the time to get a chance at a really good board.
Steve: Robert, who was our media guy at the time, was jonesin' to do a board on the skyway. The client didn't want a billboard on the 101 like all the other dot.coms. So we pushed and showed her something special.
Robert: To some extent there was pressure, but it was also super exciting. There were a lot of clients that wanted to do breakthrough work and were willing to pay for high-profile opportunities. That was always the irony with Yahoo! however, they never had crazy budgets. They were incredibly responsible with their money, which was always the challenge – making them stand out for a fraction of the money. It’s something that I think we did very well. The idea of doing a single board came from us in the media group. Karen Edwards signed on with some blind trust that we would deliver creatively. The board was bought and the contest was on for these guys to deliver something big. I recall ideas that covered the entire gamut of predictable, to fascinating and impossible to produce. It was one of the more fun and exciting projects that I have been a part of.
Steve: An art director named Aaron Allen came up with the idea. He and his partner, Aaron Stern, along with a bunch of other teams came up with a ton of ideas. Someone reminded me the other day that there was an idea that shot fire into the sky. I don't remember that one. My partner and co-creative director at the time, Bob Kerstetter, and I saw the idea Aaron had and we instantly loved it. It was a distinctive, permanent piece that had a physical element which instantly set Yahoo! apart from the other dot.coms who were putting up boards on the 101 pre-IPO.
Robert: Aaron Allen was the driving force on this. He was super talented with a certain style at the time and this concept captured that perfectly. I loved this execution from the get-go. Of course I was immediately beginning to think, “How in the Hell will we be able to do this logistically?” But I knew that we could do it in some fashion. I was worried that we wouldn't be able to pull it off at the level that it required. The idea required it to look authentic and I was sure that some of the requirements for that to happen would be killed by Clear Channel.
Steve: Yahoo! loved it. Karen Edwards, the CMO at the time, told us it had to be dramatically different than all the other dot.coms on the skyway. So in a way she pushed us to do something great. That’s the sign (pun intended,) of a great client. We loved the challenge. Personally we were looking for a case study that could tell the story of what you can do in outdoor instead of the usual 50-showing which comes down after a few months.
Robert: There were a lot of calls with Clear Channel and Atomic Props to make sure that the board wouldn't weigh too much for the roof that it was mounted on, etc.
Steve: We used a prop house in the Midwest. They were great. I think we had to buy bulbs from 4 different lighting stores in the city to fill the damn thing. We wanted chaser lights but Coca-Cola was the last company to get that approved. It was weird because you can see the two boards at the same time. I think ours would have been better with chaser lights to really embrace the motel feel a bit more.
Robert: I do recall after a year or two that we had to get it all rewired. We didn't expect that it would be up for years. We were really thinking a year or two.
Steve: "You look cute today" was our favorite [saying on the bottom of the board]. It felt like the right tone at the time – not selling too hard. Eventually it became a nice place to do a little heavy-lifting for new product and services Yahoo! offered. They had a different message every week we had the business. It was the most fun writers had at the time. We would email over 10 lines every Monday and we had at least 4 instances where dudes asked Yahoo! if they could propose to their girlfriends in the message space. Yahoo! let one guy do it. Pretty cool.
Robert: It was always intended to be a landmark. I never imagined a unit that had real estate to support all of the different business units of Yahoo! but that did turn out to be a beneficial side effect.
Steve: It could be seen from the downtown police station apparently, so we laughed about people being thrown in jail for the night looking up and seeing "You look cute today." We thought about changing it to "You look publically intoxicated today."
Robert: The wedding proposal to the prison guard was funny, too.
Steve: I think [we’ll miss it] being a part of the fabric of the city and losing a physical presence and grass roots feel at a time when Yahoo! needs it most.
Robert: San Francisco is losing what has turned into an icon. That board pre-dates 9/11, Pac Bell Park, Facebook, etc.
Steve: We still show it meetings and people still love the story and the work. It will endure more than anything else from the dot.com era I believe.