Last month, after a Procter & Gamble exec said “I really don’t want to buy any more banner ads in Facebook,” the New York Times’s Randall Stross went to Facebook and P&G to find out more about the relationship.
It’s an important one because P&G spends $300 million a year marketing branded packaged goods and if it can find a way to make advertising work on the site, the money will start pouring in for Facebook.
Stross reports back: “Neither [company] was inclined to say much.”
P&G would, however, let Facebook talk about one campaign, for Crest Whitestrips — “presumably its most successful to date,” says Stross.
For a success story, it’s not very impressive. Stross reports:
The promotion began in fall 2006, when P.& G. invited Facebook members in 20 college campus networks to become Crest Whitestrips “fans” on the product’s Facebook Page. Facebook said it was a great success, attracting 14,000 fans.
One could argue, however, that with the additional enticements that Crest provided — thousands of free movie screenings, as well as sponsored Def Jam concerts — a brand of hemorrhoid cream could have attracted a similar number of nominal “fans.”
Becoming a “fan” required nothing more than a single click. When Facebook talks about its 130 million members worldwide, it’s careful to include only active members, defined as those who have logged on within the past 30 days. But when it shows the total number of “fans” on a sponsor’s page, it treats all fans as active.
Without endless investment, these sorts of promotions sputter out. More than 4,000 of the onetime 14,000 Facebook fans of Crest Whitestrips have left the fan club.
One problem is that Facebook likes to sell itself as a way for brands to interact with potential customers. This rarely leads to success and often leads to silliness. More Stross:
The P.& G. spokeswoman pointed me to its “2X Ultra Tide” page. Here one finds an 11-month-old campaign, “American’s favourite Stains,” where members can post their “favourite places to enjoy stain-making moments!” When I checked last week, it displayed a grand total of just 18 submissions, including two from P.& G., two from someone at The Onion and one-word posts like “Tidealicious!”
Facebook has large revenues in its future as a advertising-supported Web site. But it needs to get out of its own way first. Facebook’s newest product “engagement ads” — which allow users to comment on banner ads and then puts those comments in other users’ News Feeds is just more of the same hokey brand/user interaction.
Instead, Facebook must allow advertisers to seem like they’re providing financial and technological support for cool new features on the site. Facebook’s best parts must seem “brought to you by” brands.
For example: Facebook’s Video application should be sponsored by Pure Digital Technologies, the makers of the Flip, or Sony’s CyberShot line.