Commentary

What Is Stuart Elliott Doing On Facebook Shilling For Canadian Club?

Imagine my surprise when I clicked on my Facebook newsfeed Monday morning and found an ad featuring my friend and yours, Stuart Elliott, shilling for Canadian Club! I had no idea The New York Times was so lenient with its star advertising columnist.

Well, I'm sure it isn't--not that anyone there returned a call. I left messages with three people after explaining my quest to the operator. The first spoke so quickly I couldn't catch her name. The second was a little easier to understand. And the third provided an e-mail address of which I availed myself. Nothing.

I also e-mailed the stay-cating Stuart, who is one of my many, many, many Facebook friends and for whom I wrote a couple of advertising columns before I took this gig as editor of Marketing Daily. He and I go way back--to 1986 and a boatyard in Brooklyn. But I digress.

The ad, identifiable by being enclosed in a light blue rectangle, reads:

"Stuart Elliott is a fan of Canadian Club.

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"Your Dad Was Crazy He did things people talked about. Now it's your turn. Become a Canadian Club Whisky fan."

There is a photo of Stuart with the helpful caption, "Stuart." Clicking on the ad takes you to Canadian Club's Facebook page.

In the upper right-hand corner, the ad reads Sponsored [?]. A click provides the definition of what Facebook calls a Social Ad: "Advertisers provide the text, and Facebook pairs it with a relevant social action that your friend has taken. Social Ads mean advertisements become more interesting and more tailored to you and your friends. These respect all privacy rules; advertisers never [emphasis theirs] have access to personal information about you or your friends."

All well and good, but how the heck does the advertising columnist for The Times end up looking like he's shilling CC?

Matt Hicks of Facebook's corporate communications department, would not speak about any particular user--i.e., Stuart Elliott. Users, he said, agree to Facebook's Terms of Use, a link to which is on the bottom of every page. They learn about Social Ads, he implied, by osmosis: "Users also are informed about Social Ads through the fundamental way Facebook works," by putting two and two together, as it were.

"The social actions alongside Social Ads are not content from advertisers" Hicks emphasized, but the same content that naturally occurs in News Feed to confirmed friends paired next to the advertiser's content.

Natural or not, finding oneself in an ad unexpectedly is a worrisome prospect. I enjoy Facebook and the fun my friends and I have therein. And I have been careful not to join a group that might come back to bite me. Still, I shouldn't have to worry about my face--or rather the faces of my daughters--ending up in an ad.

Nor should Stuart.

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