Ya-whom: Is The Marissa Mayer Narrative Unfair?
As expected, the criticism of Yahoo (I refuse to tack on the exclamation point) CEO Marissa Mayer has been itself singled out for sexist overtones, that the negatives would not have been aimed at her if she had been a man instead. I get that, and there is some validity to the viewpoint. Mayer, in very public fashion left her Google gig to become the savior of the failing Internet commodity with the rather goofy name. Since then, she has done amazing, groundbreaking things with Yahoo, like…
Right. And here is where the issue truly is at. In her time as CEO, Marissa Mayer has become a star, she has posed in Vogue, and is mostly known for being the CEO for Yahoo than for what Yahoo has actually accomplished. Last week, the company unveiled its new logo, which was purportedly determined on by a crowdsourced contest. The winning typography was one that nearly every online outlet with an interest in this sort of thing failed to include in their top-10 probables. A big reason for that may be that the look they went with seems like an off-the-shelf with some Photoshop 3-d filters on it. More precisely, the new Yahoo logo looks like an engraved purple tombstone.
Yet there has not been a product or service that has incorporated itself in the way we perform our online functions daily. We still Google, and that kind of brand recognition hasn’t come close to being challenged, even as the company itself takes its cycloptic eye off the ball. Having succeeded in the world of smart phones, and having put its foot smack into the pond of autonomously driven cars, the most exciting thing Google the Internet destination has given us lately is a Google-doodle for every errant fart that leaked out over history’s stinky expanse. Remember when you woke up and checked your email, and were delighted to find the familiar logo had been replaced by a cleverly disguised one? Much like Christmas every day would turn your holly jolly heart stone, cold black over time, the Google-doodle barely registers with me anymore. In other words, with this kind of market stagnation, there should be ample room for Yahoo to do something of real consequence.
So that is a very big mountain to climb, and Yahoo has not done it. Without a product it can point to as that “thing you didn’t know you wanted until it existed,” Mayer can play the part of corporate guru like Apple’s Steve Jobs, but cannot back it up with the literal goods. At the very same time, however, the tone of the criticism against her is quite unlike that of her male counterparts. Think of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, for example. Like Yahoo, Bezos has been making news by buying up other companies. But where Yahoo gets condemnation of the “what the hell are they doing” variety, Bezos fills that critical void with fascination. “He’s buying the Washington Post? He must be cooking up something huge and incredible.”
In the end, Bezos’ purchase of the venerable newspaper might be a catastrophic folly. That form of media has been suffering for years, and just because the guy that insisted that people would buy books (and anything else) over the Internet has jumped in doesn’t mean that will change. As a matter of fact, with Amazon’s Kindle, the idea that he would buy into a print-medium outlet looks as much like midlife crisis as it does seized opportunity. Yet people do talk about him like some mystic that is seeing something the rest of us are missing, while Mayer is portrayed like the cute, popular high school girl all the guys are fawning over. This is a very real narrative in the media relationship with her, and it is particularly unfair, and in fact as sexist as charged.
The one thing, the only thing, that is going to clear the air is for Yahoo to produce something that people want…right…now. With the attention-deficit-driven Internet as its primary outlet, Yahoo needs to have that commodity that defies patience and appeals to impulse. It has to be experiential, much as Gmail was to early adopters who felt like they were secret officers in a very exclusive club. That exclusivity made others want in, so much so that Gmail.com email is now the ubiquitous email provider. Yahoo must have that to make this all work and to dispel the biases against Mayer. Glammy photos and window dressing like font choices aren’t going to get there. In other words, there is the lingering perception that Mayer is little more than a very well-connected cheerleader for a fair-to-middling team. Until that team finally breaks out and shows the world something, the perception persists and Mayer will not get to be that which she deserves — the respect of being “the boss” as opposed to the pejorative “chick who runs Yahoo,” as she is clearly being packaged like.