December 27, 2012

The Facebook Monster: Best of 2012

We continue our final week of "Best of 2012" posts with this one from September.

Once upon a time, there was a thing called traditional advertising. The purpose of traditional advertising was to create demand for things.

People did this with funny television and radio commercials and pretty newspaper and magazine ads and billboards and blimps and butt danglers and hooter wobblers.

Sometimes it was darn effective. And hundreds and hundreds of brands of soda pop and toys and toothpaste and cookies and cars and beer and paper towels and cake mixes and computers and sneakers and candy bars and... well, anyway, it grew and it grew.

Traditional advertising had a funny little cousin. It was called the Yellow Pages. The Yellow Pages was different. Its purpose was not to create demand. Its purpose was to fulfill demand.

So when Timmy had already decided he wanted a pair of sneakers, he went to the Yellow Pages to find out where to buy them.

It was a handy system -- traditional advertising to create demand, and its funny little cousin to fulfill demand.

And then one day the internet came along. Advertisers, who are very, very smart at understanding what used to be true, thought that the internet would be like traditional advertising. And they used it the same way. They used it to try to create demand. They put pretty ads just about everywhere you could put one.
On this kind of site and that kind of site.

In between things and on top of things.

Before things and after things. 
But there was a problem. After 15 years of doing this, not one of these online advertisers had created a single major brand of anything. No soda pop or toys or toothpaste or cookies or cars or beer or paper towels or cake mixes or computers or sneakers or candy bars or...

Then, one day, there came along a really smart monster. The really smart monster had a silly name -- Google. This monster realized that the internet wasn't really like traditional advertising. It was more like the funny little cousin. The monster thought that the internet wouldn't be so good for creating demand, but it would be really good for fulfilling demand.

So the monster built itself a home that was very much like the funny little cousin's -- where people could go to find things they already wanted. And the monster was right. And it grew and it grew and it grew.

Now the story gets spine-tingling. One day, another monster came along. Its name was Facebook. And everybody loved this new monster. He was way more fun and friendly than the Google monster.

Now there were two advertising monsters. And they were fighting. The winner would get lots and lots of money. The loser would get lots and lots of money, too. But not as much as the winner.

Each monster had a different weapon. The Google monster's weapon was fulfilling demand. The Facebook monster's weapon was... uh-oh, you guessed it... creating demand.

So even though everybody loved the Facebook monster, it turned out that the Google monster's weapon was 25 times more powerful!

Now here's the fun part. The people who spend lots and lots of money for advertising were so fucking stupid darn silly, that after 15 years they still didn't understand this. They still thought the internet was like television and radio and newspapers and magazines and billboards and blimps and butt danglers and hooter wobblers. They thought it was really good for creating demand. And they kept spending money trying to do this. Silly guys!

Well, believe it or not, this little misunderstanding gave the Facebook monster (known to everyone on his block as "that creepy Zuckerberg kid") the idea that maybe his weapon really was powerful after all, and that if he could just find a way to redesign it so it worked really well in a new carry-around container he could win.

But, uh-oh, the problem was not where the monster's weapon was used. The problem was, the monster had the wrong weapon.

But there's a happy ending. Even though the Facebook monster had the wrong weapon, advertising people were so fucking stupid kind and generous that he still made more money than you could ever imagine.


Tedel said...

This is the post of the year for me, Bob.

Anonymous said...

And yet nothing has come along to replace the yellow pages...
Amazon and others will be happy to ship me sneakers at a better price than I thought possible, but there is a huge internet gap if what I need is sneakers TODAY.

OK, sneakers isn't the best example. But try a particular item that isn't branded.
Like an old corn broom.
Not a plastic bristle broom from the grocery, not the cheap substitute sold at the box store - even the 'hardware' box store.
But a sturdy 'I need to sweep up leaves and trash' broom.
Still made by the blind, I can order a box of ten, but darned if I can find a local one to buy.
And I am sure some local retailer has one he'd love to sell me.

Five Alive said...

I agree with the Google-Yellowpages analogy. People turn to both already having demanded something in their mind. Facebook is different, it is, at least in this particular narrow dimension, the equivalent of the Whitepages. People turn to the Whitepages to find a person for purposes of a personal communication, not for commerce. Which is why the Whitepages never contained ads.

Obviously, Facebook is far more than the Whitepages, but in this particular aspect -- what people have in their heads when they turn to it -- they are very similar.