Facebook rolled out its ad system and blurs the line between content and marketing quite a bit. It's a bizarre world where you can count Coca-Cola--or some other Facebook partner--as "friend." It's also a world that could sneak up on Google's platform.
As the Facebook news broke, I couldn't help but be a bit skeptical about the whole thing. Where I come from advertising and editorial are supposed to be separate. Befriending something like a brand takes me into some weird territory (
But Facebook's crazy idea may just work. After mulling Facebook's system over for a bit, I think the social network may be on to something that's scary on many levels. To users this ad platform is probably the future--you won't escape advertising anywhere. And to folks that hate advertising that's an issue. However, if Facebook customers don't care the social networking up-and-comer is dangerous.
Should Google be scared of Facebook's system?
Judging from Google's recent moves--notably preannouncing an Open Handset Alliance that has nothing to show yet and that OpenSocial alpha code thingy--I'd reckon the search giant is a bit worried. And once I suspend my skepticism about Facebook's ad system for a minute or two I conclude Google should be worried. Let's assume Facebook's system plays well with its users--maybe folks do want to befriend brands and become viral marketing zombies. If Facebook's gamble pays off Google will be worried. Here's why:
Facebook has a massive amount of inventory to sell;
Marketers have been grumbling about the ROI of keywords;
And text ads are extremely impersonal;
Advertising is relationship based and you still can't beat word of mouth.
As of this minute, there is no slowdown in text advertising, but there's a reason Google is acquiring DoubleClick: Advertising is more than keywords. Marketers are trying to tap into consumer emotion, be useful and capture some of that Apple magic in a bottle. A keyword isn't going to cut it, but Facebook's system just might.
Once Facebook starts parsing the data, a marketer like Coke can say "hey Facebook I want all the high school kids I can find." Facebook charges a premium CPM, Coke gets the goods and consumers play along. Everyone is fat and happy (including the kids drinking a six pack of Coke Classic a day).
Is this going to creep out Nick Carr and folks like me? You bet. But if there's no Facebook revolt and growth keeps moving forward, no one's going to give a rat's ass about we we puritans say. And Google may be caught flat-footed by advertisers wanting a little more than a text ad and a dashboard of metrics.