Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Facebook - The Misleading Advertising Platform

Companies that advertise on Facebook really need to be careful about their strategies. It is no longer enough to consider the message you put out to potential customers, you have to think about how Facebook is going to co-opt your message. I have already blogged about how Facebook might potentially use photos of children to promote booze, sex and tobacco (http://randy-abrams.blogspot.com/2011/12/does-your-kid-like-jack-daniels.html), but the hazards advertisers face are not limited to choices users make about their profile pictures. I’ll give you a case in point. I saw an ad yesterday from my former employer, ESET.

This looks like a reasonable promotion. There’s marketing value in having people “Like your page” and offering an incentive is a legitimate approach. The gotcha is how Facebook might to change the message.

Let’s assume I have not heard of ESET before, or never tried the product. It seems like a good time to try a new security solution and I have no real energy, positive or negative, around ESET. I “Like” the page and get my free trial. Now here is where things can get bad for a company in a hurry.

My friend sees an ad from ESET that shows my picture and says I “like” ESET. My friend says to me, I saw your picture next to an ESET ad that says you like them! Are they really good?” If I am like many Facebook users I will not have been aware that my picture could be used without my permission, and trying a product is not at all the same thing as liking a product. Facebook is translating a desire to test out a security product into a misleading advertising claim. There is potential for a very negative and adverse reaction.

Facebook has adopted an Orwellian double-speak approach with the word “like” and advertisers should be mindful of the changes to their ads that Facebook makes when they pair users with advertisers.

Perhaps the incidence of this type of negative response is low enough that the risk/reward ratio merits the approach, but it is a scenario that companies advertising on Facebook should consider. The word “like” in Facebook context is deliberately misleading and at times definitely conveys a false impression… and this is by design.

Advertisers on Facebook need to consider how their ad is going to be presented after Facebook adds their spin to it. In time users will probably get used to having their profile picture used without consent or previous knowledge, but until then there could be some bumps in the road for advertisers.

If I have to “like” a page to get the information I want, I don’t have a problem with that, but until Facebook agrees to not use my name and photo to promote a company’s product if I have simply subscribed to their news feed, I am un-liking all commercial entities.

As I have already told Alaska Airlines and ESET, as soon as Facebook changes their policy so that I have a choice as to where my name and photo are used in advertising, I’ll come back and “like” you again!

Randy Abrams
Independent Security Analyst

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