Like a lot of Internet companies, Yahoo believes in having fun at work. In fact, it's one of the core values spelled out on its Web site: "We believe humor is essential to success. We applaud irreverence and don't take ourselves too seriously. We yodel."
That sounds well and good, but do Yahoos, as its employees are known, really yodel at the office when there's serious work to be done?
Last November, exactly 1,773 employees and family members squeezed into the cafeteria at the company's Sunnyvale, California, headquarters to break the world record for the largest group yodel. The previous record was 937, set in 2002 by a group of German and Swiss warblers.
The company prides itself on playful events, but this gathering was special even by Yahoo standards. The number of employees gathered was two or three times as many as those participating in all-hands meetings. Employees brought their kids. They wore buttons commemorating the event. And afterward, the company gave everyone a photo of the group yodel, a memento that adorns many cubicles at Yahoo. "I think this was our best event," says Libby Sartain, vice president of human resources at Yahoo. "I've never seen people at Yahoo having so much fun."
What began as a lark became a great example of branding on the cheap. The company spent the fall conducting a nationwide search for an amateur yodeler to appear in an upcoming TV ad. While researching the world of yodeling, the marketing department stumbled across the world record and suggested that the company break it. They plastered Yahoo's campus with posters. Senior executives sent out emails and promised to serve everyone lunch in the company cafeteria if Yahoo set a new record. "Management gets it," says Murray Gaylord, vice president of brand marketing at Yahoo. "They know that the culture here embraces the yodel."
Wylie Gustafson, the singer behind the signature 'Yahoo!' sign-off in ads, led the performance, if you can call it that, in the cafeteria. It resembled a Sound of Music sing-along; Gustafson yodeled, and employees yodeled back with gusto. (The free beer, no doubt, helped.) Yahoo was savvy enough not to keep the event to itself; footage soon appeared on CNN.
Employees had a blast rallying around the brand. The record was history. The day became instant publicity. "The best events are organic to your company," says Sartain. "You have to make it real, an experience that creates a memory. They add to the company legend. We use the yodeling story in our recruiting material now. It's the gift that keeps on giving."
While Yahoo is still awaiting the official word from not-to-be-rushed Guinness, the record was history. That's something to sing about.
A version of this article appeared in the July 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.