Commentary

Unflattering Movie Ads: An Important Test for Facebook

If someone made a not-so-complimentary movie about me someday, I imagine I would be pretty pissed off. On one hand, if the movie is inaccurate, it must be infuriating to have one's reputation wrongly besmirched in front of millions of people, with no recourse. On the other hand, if it's accurate -- well, they nailed you, and no one likes to get called out on their misdoings. And if it happens to be somewhere in between -- an unflattering mix of truth and falsehood -- you probably end up where Mark Zuckerberg appears to be now regarding "The Social Network": angry but wisely saying nothing.

But that's not the end of it. Keeping their lips zipped is easy enough for corporate bosses, especially if they have sound legal advice -- but in the media business, there must be an additional temptation to censor publicity for the offending movie (or book, or article), at least through your own proprietary channels and possibly through your partners, if you happen to wield enough clout.

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So the real question is: will Zuckerberg try to squelch advertising and publicity for "The Social Network"?

The fear is definitely out there: at least that's how I interpret an article from ClickZ which notes that, at least so far, no major online movie marketers appear to be running ads for "The Social Network" on Facebook, including Columbia Pictures, Fandango and Moviefone. According to ClickZ, MovieTickets.com is the lone potential holdout, still "considering it leading up to the film's premiere."

The general absence of ads for this movie is certainly odd, considering the social network's general suitability for reaching young adults, as well as the obvious synergy in this case: it makes sense to place an ad for a movie about Facebook on Facebook, no? Although I'd be hard-pressed to prove it, I have to agree with the implication of the ClickZ article -- that Facebook has let its many online ad partners know, unofficially, that they would be better off not running ads for the movie. Because it would be tragic if something, you know, was to happen to dem, say while dey was planning their next online ad campaign on Facebook.

The social network and the marketers have some convenient, but rather overdrawn, excuses for the big cop-out. You see, Facebook's ad policies specifically prohibit any advertising that mentions Facebook. Well, okay, but the fact is most of the ads for "The Social Network" make no mention of Facebook -- typically they just have that creepy Mark Zuckerberg doppelganger fixing you with his intense, nerdy gaze, with the tagline "You don't get to 500 million friends without making some enemies." And yet they are still nowhere to be seen on Facebook itself.

Of course, Facebook has enough sense to avoid censoring user-generated content: "The Social Network" has its own community page, which aggregates content from sources including Wikipedia, Pitchfork.com, and Facebook pages for stars like Justin Timberlake, and which currently has almost 39,000 Facebook friends. But I wonder whether Facebook is making the right decision with its unofficial ban on advertising from The Social Network.

While marketers and media types may understand and accept the difference between editorial and advertising -- acknowledging that Facebook has more leeway in rejecting or otherwise blocking ads from appearing on the site -- I'm not sure that ordinary users will accept this distinction. Especially since Facebook has earned unwanted publicity for fiddling with privacy policies and sharing user information with advertisers, in effect blurring the lines between advertising and user-generated "editorial" content. Now they'll see (or rather won't see) the site putting the kibosh on ads for an unflattering movie, in an attempt to control public opinion about the site. And although Facebook is trying to keep the movie out of the view of its members, the buzz around "The Social Network" is so big that most of them probably know about it from other sources -- making it more likely they will notice its glaring absence from Facebook.

3 comments about "Unflattering Movie Ads: An Important Test for Facebook".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, September 27, 2010 at 6:49 p.m.

    His famous "They trust me" quote (see the rest of the quote at youropenbook.org; upper right corner) is hard to deny. And he hasn't denied his initial disregard for people, maybe because his associates saved their email from him.

  2. Jen Knoedl from JenChicago, September 27, 2010 at 6:57 p.m.

    That was an extremely vague promo video- and I know they wouldn't do anything unintentionally. Hmm... I think I'll wait to hear the reviews before going to see it.

  3. Mark McLaughlin, September 28, 2010 at 7:25 p.m.

    I think the movie is more about Sean Parker than about Mark Z although I haven't seen it. It's just that a PR strategy for a movie about Sean ain't going to accomplish much because even the most passionate Facebook users don't know who the first president of Facebook is.

    Regardless, everyone involved with this movie says it is fiction. They are not even reaching for the Oliver Stone "docudrama" descriptor. It is fun to imagine what your life might be like if you invented a website that made you a billionaire and that is what this movie is. The effort to tie this movie to Mark Zuckerberg is good marketing but that is all it is.

    The notion that Mark Zuckerberg is sitting around dwelling on whether or not some little tiny ads on the sides of Facebook pages for a 3rd tier movie about the birth of this social networking platform is kind of silly. This "news story" is simply the invention of bloggers sitting around trying to pretend that they know something about this guy and what he does everyday.

    This is not "An Important Test for Facebook" except in the mind of a blogger who decides that this is what it is.

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