We have entered a brave new world for advertising. Marketing campaigns that seemed brilliant during the Superbowl only a few weeks ago now seem dated and out of touch. Entire premises of TV shows are dated before they even premiere. Modern Family’s finale, the culmination of 11 seasons of the once-groundbreaking perennial Emmy winner, was based on the premise that tight-knit families separate and won’t see each other again for a long while. As my kids, now returned home for the crisis, watched with me, we kept saying “see you again in six months…” Turns out that all of the pathos was for naught.
There are not one but two new shows that have to do with going broke and moving in with family. In classic broadcast TV fashion, they’re actually scheduled against each other. They may yet retool to feel more relevant to the current moment. But as they stand now, the shows are remnants of the whiny self-indulgent OK Boomer era where money problems were the silly “sits” of sitcoms rather than existential challenges to families and the nation as a whole. In an era of total financial ruin, Tiger King is the escape we want. Not Fran Drescher making jokes in a nasally voice about having to delay the purchase of new pair of designer shoes.
Then there’s the new Facebook ad. Ostensibly, the spot, created by agency Droga5 and Facebook, is meant to celebrate the coming together of the world to revivify the human spirit in a time of unthinkable challenge. The spot certainly responds to the moment far more relevantly than Facebook’s previous campaign for Facebook groups, which featured carefully selected demographic icons celebrating arcane hobbies like kazoo playing. Those ads felt unspeakably frivolous in an era when you need to make an appointment to go to the grocery store.
But Facebook’s new spot is generating wildly varying opinions. It reminds me of the blue or gold dress meme of a few years back. Depending on your point of view, you see a completely different outcome and motivation. Fast Company has called the spot “a fantastic piece of advertising.”
I see something completely different. To me, Facebook comes off as exploiting a situation that is far from over. It feels like the tech giant is attempting to frame the crisis as a chance for quarantined artists to display their art, with Facebook as the web that ties us all together. For me, it’s too early to put a gloss on this period of history. The wounds are too raw.
Facebook isn’t without fault in the missteps that led to unnecessary delay
Too, Facebook isn’t without fault in the missteps that led to unnecessary delay and increased mortality. Many of the rumors that led people to disregard the warnings of medical professionals festered on Facebook pages. Some of the governments themselves came to power with the help of Facebook turning a blind eye to misinformation.
For Facebook to turn away from its culpability to try to surf the wave of destruction that it may have helped increase feels tone-deaf and disingenuous. I see a blue dress. But plenty of others, especially in the marketing profession, see a gold one. Even tech bro critic Anand Giridharadas, whom I have written about several times, and who often castigates Facebook as a member of “marketworld,” has checked his criticism and pointed out the value that tech companies like Facebook are bringing to connecting the world and providing structure where governments have failed.
It’s complicated. I guess I would feel better if Facebook focused more on culling its pages for truth than co-opting this moment for its benefit. Advertising has been called by one agency “truth well told.” To some, that’s just another phrase for “a lie.”
Right now, the world doesn’t need Facebook’s glossy take on the crisis. The world needs ventilators.