Facebook’s shark-jump advertising moves

I just looked up facebook advertising on Google News, and got these results:

More Facebook Ads Are Coming, Your Friends Will Finally Hit Delete
Forbes-8 hours ago
Now, Facebook is doing a pretty smart thing here rolling out the more prominent advertising along with an updated user experience, but will…

Facebook’s New News Feed Is a Binder Full of Advertising The Atlantic Wire-4 hours ago

Disruptions: As User Interaction on Facebook Drops, Sharing  New York Times (blog)-Mar 3, 2013

Facebook Isn’t Your Platform. You’re Facebook’s Platform -Businessweek-Mar 5, 2013

Facebook’s advertising strategy cannot win
USA TODAY-Mar 5, 2013 Facebook presumably did not purposefully create a freeadvertising vehicle (that is, the standard posting function) that’s more effective than its … 

all 84 news sources »

Facebook may charge users to remove ads, patent application reveals GigaOM-by Janko Roettgers-Mar 5, 2013 Facebook may offer users to get rid of ads, highlight custom messages or even select the friends displayed on their personal profile in 

Mostly negative stuff.

But there are some plusses, down below the fold. For example, Facebook advertising works, and couldn’t be more fair, by Rocco Pendola in TheStreet. His gist:

Roughly five months into my job as TheStreet’s director of social media, I can tell you — firsthand — that Facebook advertising works incredibly well for a brand/multimedia organization such as TheStreet. In fact, I argue that if Facebook’s platform doesn’t work for you, you’re simply not doing it right.

Well, good for them. Over here on the receiving end it isn’t so pretty. For example, here’s my latest ad pile at Facebook:

A few questions:

  1. Where does Facebook get the idea that I want to cheat on my wife, to whom it knows I’ve been married for almost 23 years?
  2. Why would Facebook sell an ad to an advertiser that would rudely suggest that there is a chance in hell that I’d ever cheat on my wife?
  3. And why would anybody want to be told, over and over again, as the AARP ads always do, that they’re old?

Maybe it’s because they’ll sell anything to anybody. Or maybe it’s that SeniorPeopleMeet and SeniorsMeet simply buy exposures across the entire “senior” demographic, regardless of what Facebook’s intelligence might say about individuals in that demographic. Clearly Facebook doesn’t mind, regardless of the reasons, which is worse than insulting: it’s stupid and wrong.

It’s hard to imagine a company that has more “big data” about its users than Facebook does, or better means for delivering truly relevant ads to individuals. And yet Facebook’s advertising is mostly ignored, unwelcome or worse. Yes, its advertising program has made Facebook financially successful. But that success masks other failures, such as the very high percentage of misses, many of which have negative results. I see no reason to believe that these failings won’t also be leveraged into the company’s new advertising ventures, covered in the news above.

I’ve been told by adtech professionals that a funny thing about their business is that Google and Facebook are terribly jealous of each other: Google is jealous of Facebook because Facebook can get especially personal with its users, while Facebook is jealous of Google because Google can advertise all over the Web. And yet both are missing real human relationships with their users, because the users are not customers. They are the products being sold to the companies’ real customers, which are advertisers.

What’s keeping Facebook from offering paid services to individuals — or Google from offering more than the few they do? Here’s one reason I got from a Google executive: it costs too much money to serve individual human customers. This isn’t verbatim, but it’s close: If our users were actually customers, we would have to support them with human beings, and we don’t want to make less than $1 million per employee (Yes, that was the number they gave.) And yet, all advertising-supported businesses could benefit a great deal by having at least some of their users become subscribers.

Start with the money. How much would Facebook make if the company offered a subscription service that came with both no advertising and better privacy protections? Depends on the subscription price, of course, multiplied by the number of people who go for the deal. Maybe one of ya’ll can give us some run-ups in the comments below.

Then look at to the signaling issue. Real customers can send much better signals to Facebook than mere “users” can. They can offer real feedback, and good ideas for improving services — the kind of stuff you get when you have a real relationship, rather than a vast data milking operation. For example, a company with human customers can hear, personally, how they’re screwing up, from people who care enough to pay for services.

I’ve dealt with a lot of highly successful companies, and they all risk the same problem: getting high from smoking their own exhaust, and thinking their shit doesn’t stink. Facebook is there right now. And they are making the same mistake that AOL, Compuserve, Prodigy, MySpace and countless other online services did when they were high and thought their shit didn’t stink. They assumed that occupants of their private habitats love being there, and wouldn’t leave. In fact many inhabitants of Facebook only tolerate it, or are there because it’s what works for now, or because lots of their friends and relatives are there. But they can leave, and so can their friends and relatives, as soon as attractive other choices appear. Which is inevitable.

Everybody has limits. Facebook is hell-bent on testing them, apparently.

Bonus link.


  1. Esme Vos’s avatar

    Facebook keeps showing me weight-loss ads. Apparently Facebook doesn’t bother to look at the many photos I have posted on their own site, to see that I don’t need to lose weight. I also get these creepy dating ads which are totally irrelevant.

  2. Brent Logan’s avatar

    I’m always amazed to see people complaining about Facebook ads when AdBlock is available for free and works wonderfully on Facebook.

    Maybe one of these days it won’t. Hulu seems to be able to detect it and firmly suggest that it be configured to allow ads (and even helps in the process).

    Facebook will reach a point of obnoxiousness that people will leave. It happened to MySpace. It will happen again.

  3. Roland’s avatar

    There’s something wrong with the idea that Google is jealous of Facebook. I hate Facebook. I block it in my linux hosts file. Chromium nags me about it *constantly*. Worse, the nags cover legit content. Firefox doesn’t do that. That’s why I only use Chromium for a few sites (like Bloomberg) that look bad in Firefox. They’re apparently still coding for IE, I guess.

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Brent, I use AdBlock, and much more. I also turn it off some of the time, to see what advertising I would get if the blocking isn’t on. I also keep one browser (Safari in this case) clean of ad- and tracking-blocking ad-ons to see what most other people see without prophylaxis.

    FWIW, the prior two posts here have been about advertising, and this one has a screenshot of all the ad and tracking blocking extensions I’m running on Firefox.

  5. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Roland, the jealousy report is from one adtech guy. But I’ve seen in many markets the same phenomenon: the two biggest competitors pay more attention to each other than they do to customers. Or, in the case of these two, users who might be more valuable as customers.

  6. Brent Logan’s avatar

    Doc, I should never have doubted your wisdom in these matters. Thanks for the reply. 🙂

  7. Doc Searls’s avatar

    No biggie, Brent. Doubting anybody’s wisdom tends to be a good thing. I doubt mine all the time. 🙂

  8. Shane Latham’s avatar

    This post is really incredible, one of the most helpful I have ever read,indeed.

  9. Edward Matthew’s avatar

    The Facebook ads nothing like general advertisement, simply Facebook puts this paid advertisement. I think some irrelevant adds should not show in our profile page. But there are no filtration and all adds are showing.

  10. Jacobus’s avatar

    Facebook is driving me up the wall anyway, not only with ads. They just announced a new time line. Why? Did we ask for it? I sure didn’t. I really don’t get these companies that keep being “innovative” and I think that one day, one of those changes will mean their downfall. And yes, pretty annoying that they think you want to cheat your wife. Duh!

  11. Retvig’s avatar

    What never seizes to amaze me is that everyone is always saying that Facebook has soooooo much data that they will be able to serve the most targeted ads, and everybody keeps getting nothing but irrelevant nonsense.

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