Facebook Is Like Tobacco

In a tongue-in-cheek post, Clay Allsop of Propeller offers that Facebook’s nonsensical Like A Chair video campaign is a parody of our own ambivalent attitude toward The Social Network. He states:

What bothers me is how we’re okay with this; that the tragedy of the video is the comical absurdity of the “Chair” analogy and not the deeper tragedy that any company is trying to connect with us like this at all. How one minute we’re being pitched about Facebook addressing the human condition, and the next we’re advertised to about Farmville.

And he asks:

Really, what other company has tried to explicitly associate its product with solving existential loneliness?

Not many, Clay but there is one notable example, WD & HO Wills’ disastrous launch of a new tobacco brand, ‘You’re Never Alone With A Strand’

You're Never Alone With A Strand

This legendary TV spot and print campaign portrayed Frank Sinatra lookalike, Terence Brooks, as an angst-ridden everyman pacing the streets of London to the ‘Lonely Man Theme‘ and seeking solace in the smooth and fulsome flavour of a Strand cigarette.

Though the public identified with the late-night imagery (and the backing track, which shot up the charts) the campaign was a failure. Nobody wanted to buy a product associated with a loser.

Perhaps, in time, we’ll find that Facebook is like tobacco?

Image: Imperial Tobacco

Facebook Comments


It’s been a strange old week for Facebook, the social network service that improves self-esteem, finds lost engagement rings and cures cancer. As shares on the secondary market closed at an all time high, valuing the company at some $82.5 Billion, for one fleeting moment it seemed like the tide of opinion could turn against the mighty blue juggernaut.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the tide of popular opinion.

Followers of the tabloid tech press will be aware that a handful of high profile blogs have taken to Facebook Comments and Connect in a cheap and cheerful attempt to improve the quality of reader engagement, or to put it more simply, as a means of starving the trolls.

As you might expect critics were quite vocal in pointing out Facebook’s complete lack of regard for anonymity in commenting. How would this effect free and open debate?

I particularly enjoyed Steve Cheney’s take on the big blue authenticity killer, thoughts that were picked up and elaborated upon by Lauren Weinstein, who took the argument directly to Godwin in a piece dripping with venom:

Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has been quoted as saying:

“You have one identity. The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly … Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

This statement, particularly the latter portion, could only have been made by someone supremely self-confident — and so young that they haven’t accumulated much “life baggage” as of yet.

In fact, it is an extremely alarming statement, one that would have gladdened the hearts of despots and government spooks all through human history. Coming from the man child who controls the Facebook empire, such a quote should trigger alarm bells of concern for every person, everywhere, who cares about free speech and civil liberties.

I have to say, though I don’t share the scathing sentiment, in many respects I’m with Weinstein on this. Only the arrogance of youth could insist that a silo meets a complex societal need to share and converse online. I simply do not believe the oft-trotted out wisdom that Facebook ‘gets’ social.

Yes, the big blue meanie understands ego, greed and avarice but the rich complexity of our social interactions? Well, if Facebook Groups is the answer to the question: ‘how do I fit my relationships with my teenage niece, aged aunt, high-school buddies and edgy-to-the-point-of-embarrassment pub friends into the same space?’ then no, Facebook doesn’t ‘get’ social – and they know it.

As yet to be played out, the truth is that we flawed and feckless humans require multiple social networks. We are not Everyman, this is not a morality play, it’s real life.

So what is Facebook good for? John C Dvorak summed it rather nicely:

I see Facebook as kind of a refuge for the meek and wary. I see Facebook as a ghetto for netizens who cannot survive on the real Internet; people who could never learn to ride a bike and would have stayed with AOL if it had not abandoned them.

Facebook is great at providing simple and familiar comforts to the many, apparently everyone feels a little better after a few minutes in the blue room. And if that weren’t enough reason to keep going back, there’s a bundle of money to be made as well. FMCG is leveraging f-commerce and whilst the eyeballs stay on it, Facebook is enormously good at advertising and product promotion.

Elsewhere the rising valuation on the secondary market means that Facebook will be the biggest and bluest of blue chips for as long as it takes for some folks at Goldman Sachs to fill their boots. At some stage the company will be very good at making a heck of a lot of rich people even richer. A great friend of mine, who just happens to be an Investment Banker specialising in Securitisation, put it thusly:

Companies that have a valuation of $82.5 billion have a twenty-year plan. It’s not a long term bet.

Take from that what you will but if you think the fellas that brought us Credit Default Swaps have a vision beyond 2013, you’re probably mistaken.

Of course, I might be wrong and in a world where Regulators and Network Operators decide that tiered-pricing is the way that data has to go, Facebook might be just what the doctor ordered to wrap up your online experience. Have a think about how Facebook0 plays into Net Neutrality.

As a friend, my advice is simple: If you’re on Facebook for more than 30 minutes a day, buy yourself a domain name and some hosted server space and pay yourself first. If you don’t you’re an idiot.

Image: When good networks go bad – from Mamoru Hosoda’s Summer Wars

Facebook featurephone app


Facebook has released an app for featurephones to complement m.facebook.com, this makes perfect sense and might just be the biggest source of growth in The Social Network in 2011. Given the ease with which such a java app can be hacked together and configured for a vast array of mobile devices, I do wonder what took them so long to get around to this.

Featurephones remain the largest mobile market segment in terms of sales and use. Though the migration from dumbphone to smartphone is well underway, the harsh economic reality is that the majority of consumers cannot afford to upgrade and won’t be able to for some time to come.

Many of the tabloid tech blogs would have you believe that sub $100 smartphones will be pervasive in the market by the end of 2011. That may be true but thinking globally, which tabloid tech blogs rarely do, the average retail price of mobile phone floats between $45 and $50. That price is less than the baseline factory-gate cost of a theoretical Android smartphone that retails at $100. Factor in the legacy device life-cycle and the largely ignored refurbished phone market and, well, sorry folks, expect featurephones to be with us for a while yet.

So why a Facebook app when m.facebook.com is already doing a great job of servicing the needs of this market? I suspect a few reasons:

  1. User Experience. Ever tried to browse the web on a featurephone? It’s such easier to control and standardise the user experience with an app in these devices.
  2. Distribution. Featurephone customers are avid app consumers. This is evident in the incredible popularity of GetJar, Ovi and Tapjoy stores in this market segment. Carriers too might find it easier to sell phones with Facebook onboard. The few download and install stumbling blocks that frustrated app pioneers in the early years of this millennium are long gone.
  3. Reach. I’m at risk of repeating myself but featurephone customers make-up the largest segment of mobile users in the world. For the majority of them that ‘dumbphone’ is their only connection to the Internet. Staking claim to an icon or shortcut on their mobile desktop is a lot more valuable than grabbing a bookmark.

New Facebook registrations have reached a plateau in mature western markets, searching for growth a featurephone app is a superb idea, though perhaps not the right strategy for everyone.