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Marketers get real estate on Yahoo IM

The portal giant is testing an upgrade to its instant messenger, jazzing it up a bit and opening the door for a new form of marketing on the service.


Lisa Pollack, director of Yahoo Messaging Products, talks about Yahoo Messenger's new features. (4:03)

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Yahoo has launched an upgrade to its instant messenger, adding character to otherwise bland chats and opening the door for a new form of marketing on the popular service.

The latest edition of Yahoo Messenger carries a new feature dubbed "IMVironment," which gives the message window an animated backdrop. The animations include everything from floating hearts for romantics, to mock cartoons using characters from "Dilbert," "Peanuts" and "Hello Kitty." There is even one dubbed "Yahoo Fighter," modeled after popular Japanese martial arts video games, where chatters choose characters and duke it out in a dojo.

The new features highlight Yahoo's effort to turn its existing popular services into marketing vehicles. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Web giant is trying to let marketers, in this case ones representing cartoons, embed their images or products into its highly frequented messenger service. The new IMVironment also underscores Yahoo's desire to become more of a marketing partner with media and entertainment companies.

An example of this is the IMVironment for the rock band "Garbage," which includes links to buying the band's CDs or downloading one of its videos.

This idea is not new for Yahoo. For more than two years, the company has pursued ways to partner with companies to create custom campaigns that use its various Web services. Dubbed "fusion marketing," Yahoo struck deals with major consumer products companies such as Procter & Gamble, Purina and Pepsi to create custom Web sites to profile their products. It is unclear how successful these programs have been for the company.

Yahoo is feeling more pressure to develop ways to partner with outside companies. As advertising continues to struggle, which has caused Yahoo's earnings projections to plummet during the past 12 months, the company has been trying to convince the industry that it is beneficial for them to advertise throughout its site.

Meanwhile, advertising shortfalls have continued to hurt the company, causing it to undergo a restructuring plan that will result in layoffs.

Besides the IMVironments, the latest version offers a few other bells and whistles such as a handful of new "emoticons," including one green with nausea and a clown face. Other add-ons include an interactive crystal ball and a feature that allows IM users to be notified when someone else is in the process of typing a message to them.