To celebrate its 12th anniversary today, Facebook has introduced a campaign called “Friends Day”.
By now, you have probably already seen one or more of the minute-long videos that show you pictures of your friends from the past year.
The videos feature off-camera person whose hands lay down index cards that say “Hi X. “Here are your friends”. As a jaunty music track kicks in, the hands display a series of pictures culled from your page and begin to caption them with text from your feed.
The rollout of Facebook Friends Day has played to mixed results. Writing in the U.K’s Telegraph today, Helen Horton calls the campaign “creepy” and points out that the algorithm Facebook uses to create the videos can result in some unintended bad feelings, instead of the Kodachrome “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” glow that Facebook clearly intends to illicit.
“Some of us have many selfies on our Facebook accounts, ” says Horton. “Others have pictures with ex-lovers, and maybe friends who have double-crossed us, died or whom we don’t speak to anymore for another reason. Many people we have been photographed with, and are Facebook friends with, have hurt us, or we lost touch with them and feel guilty about it every time we think of them. At the moment, an algorithm can’t really understand that. This has meant for some people, the collage juxtaposes sugar-sweet cheerfulness, the sort really only ever displayed by an American company, and painful memories.”
Conjuring feelings of pain, hurt and betrayal is clearly not the intended result here. In a video featuring Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and founder Mark Zuckerberg, women in Hijabs, a person with alopecia, newborns, and people wearing virtual reality headgear, Facebook gives us the origin story behind Friends Day, as though it were or a key civil rights victory or The Red Cross.
“We figured rather than have this birthday that focuses on us we should make sure the world focuses on how people are connecting…around the world,” explains Zuckerberg in his trademark grey t-shirt and jeans.
If the Facebook “Friends Day” video feels familiar there’s a reason. The method employed by the campaign has been used recently and frequently to sell you dish soap, coffee, body wash, beer and insurance. Modern advertising is not about the product, it’s about the experience of the product in your life. If you grew up in the 1950’s to 1980’s you are probably familiar with a commercial like this one, from Budweiser. It has a jingle, a mascot, and it sells you on how crisp and refreshing drinking a Budweiser is.
Contrast the Budweiser ad with this recent ad from Coors. “What would be without our mountains?” asks the voiceover. “Without the things that stand in our way?”
Elina Vives, Coors’ senior director of marketing, told Adweek the company is trying to capture “a universal insight that transcends gender, age and ethnicity, which is especially important as we strive to have our marketing better reflect the culturally diverse world in which our consumers live.”
Ms. Vives, it should be laid plain, is not a motivational speaker. Nor is she running a grassroots inner-city campaign to improve education for minorities. No, she sells beer. And in 2016, that’s just the way you have to talk to sell six cans of water, barley malt, corn, yeast and hops for five dollars.
Make no mistake, Facebook’s “Friends Day” campaign is about Facebook. It’s just the game that has changed. The difference is best explained by a line from Bette Midler’s character CC Bloom, in the 1988 movie “Beaches”.
“But enough about me, what do you think of me?”