Is Facebook banking that you're a beacon of egomania?

Guest post: Chris Matyszczyk writes that the greatest commercial battle currently is between the ad and the algorithm, between predictability and "ticklability." Facebook needs to figure out how to make its users feel like they aren't being sold up the river.

Guest post: Chris Matyszczyk writes that the greatest commercial battle currently is between the ad and the algorithm, between predictability and "ticklability." Facebook needs to figure out how to make its users feel like they aren't being sold up the river.

Even when you go to church, they make you put money on the collection plate. (Hey, priests need to live celestial, right?) So how long was it going to take before the world’s Facebookers realized that Mark Zuckerberg did not believe the way to self-fulfillment was paved with sackcloth and ashes?

Did they really think that this cool site that allowed them to make new like-minded friends would simply exist on donations? You know, like an NPR for the not quite taste-impaired.

So they knew that advertising was coming. They only had to look at those poor MySpacers. (Which, for many, must have involved no more than a quick glance in the mirror.) The minute Rupert Murdoch put his ‘my’ into the communal space, the ads began to sprout like armpit-haired groupies at a 60s love-in.

However, as I said in my last post on this fabulously divisive subject, this ought to be a unique opportunity for Facebookers to make their voices heard on the subject of the quality of commercial jingle that is jangled their way.

I don’t know who’s been advising Facebook on their advertising mechanism, but I think they spent their Thanksgiving with Hannibal Lecter and the red wine producers of Turkmenistan.

There is one principle in advertising (yup, just the one) and that is that if people decide you’re being sneaky, they get very pissy indeed.

This message has still not got through to many of the practitioners of direct marketing. Perhaps it’s because they live in a world in which the same thing needs to be said over and over again until you annoy people into submission.

Yes, these are the folks who invented such staggering wisdoms as that “Do Not Discard” message slapped on an envelope. You know, the one that makes you want to rip that baby up with all the reverential serenity of Javier Bardem in "No Country For Old Men."

A direct marketer’s sneakiness consists of equal parts irritation and, well, obfuscation.

And the idea that they can slip the commercialization of your private life past you as if they were a car dealer pre-owned by crack seems like a notion predicated on your getting used to the irritation.

As I said in my last post, it is very much your fault that you have allowed yourself to become a walking, talking, and, on occasion, barfing billboard.

But at heart, what the fanatics behind the opt-out sleight of click might be counting on is that you don’t go to Facebook to be social at all.

There is an argument, and I’m happy to have it here, that the real reason people go to Facebook is not to meet others, but to be seen. What better way to get approval from strangers who, if they met you in real life, might decide you were a dork with the body odor of a bison?

Those straight lines going up on the social graph? Those are the social narcissism scores.

What Facebook seems to be counting on is that your ego will be boosted like a freshman college quarterback from Louisiana-Lafayette when others find out what you’re buying, watching, wearing and, oh yeah, sharing.

You’ll be a Beacon, alright.

An ego sunny-side up with Beacon.

Facebook’s idea, as it stands right now, feels like you’re not being sold to. You’re being drafted. And not in the college quarterback sense.

Perhaps the greatest commercial battle currently is between the ad and the algorithm. Between predictability and ticklability. Engineers want to believe that human behavior is predictable and rational, that the actual content is far less important than the placement.

Human beings, on the other hand, believe in such values as spontaneity. (No, actually a pop-up has all the spontaneity of an elbow to the chops from a hockey enforcer.)

It really is up to Facebookers to decide what kind of human beings they are. Are they ushering in the New Age of the Engineers, in which we’re all just chips off the old rational block? Or are they prepared to force advertisers to treat them in ways that are thoughtful, funny, witty and wise? And social.

If Facebook is, after all, the pre-eminent social network, then the members have to prove, like any fine society (and I can’t include Turkmenistan in this description right now), that they can set the rules.

But if it’s a forum for social narcissism, then every Facebooker is just a fashion model with a bad habit. One that will very soon be telling us that they’ve just been online and bought two Shania Twain CDs, a skillet and the new James Patterson novel. And a Kindle to read it on, of course.

Given the very muted protests that have been heard so far, I’m ready to give all your email addresses to Tyra Banks.

Chris Matyszczyk has spent most of his career as an award-winning creative director in the advertising industry. He advises major global companies on marketing and creativity. Chris has also been a journalist, covering the Olympics, SuperBowl and other sporting events. He brings a non-techie's perspective to the tech world and a sharp wit to the rest of the world. Check out his "Pond Culture" blog.


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