Would Advertisers Fail Zuckerberg's 'Marshmallow Test'?

Crap. Once again, I’m going through one of those phases when I can’t get my mind off Facebook, much as I’ve basically banned myself from going on it this week to make sure I focus on, among other things, putting the finishing touches on OMMA Social and OMMA Video, the two greatest conferences slated for next week’s Internet Week NY!!!!

Sorry. Was that a bit over the top?

With the Facebook IPO a little more than a week away, Facebook -- and, in particular Mark Zuckerberg --  is everywhere. Zuck is on the cover of New York magazine, and his every move is being watched, whether he is emerging from a black SUV to go to a roadshow presentation, or wearing his trademark hoodie to the roadshow, a fashion statement that one Wedbush Securities analyst called a “a mark of immaturity."

Since this column is not devoted to fashion, I’ll beg off any commentary on that one, except to say that the wearing of the possibly "immature" hoodie is perhaps the ultimate statement of how Facebook will run itself for the foreseeable future. How? Exactly how Mark Zuckerberg wants it to run.

Perhaps, having read that paragraph, you think I’ve also got Sacha Baron Cohen’s upcoming “The Dictator” on the brain too. No. That’s my 14-year-old son’s obsession.

What I’m talking about is something elucidated in the Henry Blodget New York magazine cover story I mentioned earlier. As Zuckerberg holds 57% of the voting shares, Blodget explains: “This level of control in the hands of one shareholder is extraordinary, and it’s already raising hackles on Wall Street. But it was crucial to getting Zuckerberg comfortable with taking Facebook public, because it means he won’t be compelled to take shortcuts to appease impatient shareholders.”

I’d add to that: “or, to appease impatient advertisers.”

I just got off a conference call to prepare for a panel I’m moderating at OMMA Social called “What We’ve Learned from the Brief History of Facebook's Timeline for Brands.” Without tipping the panel’s hand too much (but in order to keep hyping it!), I will say I came away from the call with the following thought: Given the steep learning curve Facebook's Timeline has created for
advertisers -- and right before an IPO -- this sure was a weird time for Facebook to upend the advertising apple cart.

Over the long-term, Timeline for Brands, and, specifically, the media dollars it will take for brands to be successful with it, should work out very well for Facebook. It’s clearer than ever that even a major advertiser who doesn’t fully understand how to advertise on Facebook will nonetheless have to reckon with its 900 million users. It would be like ignoring the broadcast networks back when they were the only TV game in town.

But Zuckerberg is prepared to play a waiting game to get that model right. Blodget emphasizes this line from the Facebook S1: ““We don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services.”

To illustrate the point, Blodget tells the reader about the marshmallow test. It’s a good one: “When talking about Zuckerberg’s most valuable personality trait, a colleague jokingly invokes the famous Stanford marshmallow tests, in which researchers found a correlation between a young child’s ability to delay gratification -- devour one treat right away, or wait and be rewarded with two -- with high achievement later in life. If Zuckerberg had been one of the Stanford scientists’ subjects, the colleague jokes, Facebook would never have been created: He’d still be sitting in a room somewhere, not eating marshmallows.”

So, what’s to make of any advertiser disenfranchisement with Facebook? Maybe advertisers would flunk the marshmallow test. Maybe they want a marshmallow. Just one. NOW!

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