2012: The year of the chair?

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It’s been a big year for the lowly chair. First, Clint Eastwood famously addressed an empty chair at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Just a few weeks later, Facebook celebrated its billionth user with its first-ever brand campaign, which likened the world’s largest social network to…a chair.


Clearly chairs are trending. Both Clint Eastwood and Facebook have garnered their fair share of attention and ridicule on social media. Personally, I agree with those who find the Facebook spot to be indulgent, lacking in self-awareness, and well, just lame. That said, creative judgment aside, what does this effort tell us about Facebook and how to build brands in today’s socially connected culture?

Stories matter. The legend of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook’s founding in a Harvard dorm room will only carry the brand so far. In order to strengthen its emotional connection with users, Facebook needs to cultivate and socialize stories that communicate the company’s contribution to people’s lives. Facebook has given voice to literally millions of stories among its user base, and it has played an important part in social movements large and small—from anti-bullying to the Arab Spring. Facebook missed a huge opportunity here to showcase real brand stories that have had a tangible, positive effect on people and the planet.

Platforms matter. As the last of the “gang of four”—Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook—to produce advertising content, Facebook has clearly been wary of experimenting with more traditional media. But having finally stuck a toe into advertising, it has produced a classic, high-concept broadcast spot that’s full of bluster and light on substance. This might work for Monday Night Football, but it’s hardly appropriate to simply post on Facebook (as it has done) and hope people will watch. This effort provides no pass-along utility, and has none of the “shareability factors” required to succeed in social media marketing. If anything, it’s a case study on how not to market on Facebook. And sadly, it showcases the current limitations of Facebook as a brand-building platform.

Values matter. It’s no surprise that Facebook isn’t fully trusted by even its most ardent fans. As our 2012 Global Brand Simplicity Index shows, people struggle to comprehend the platform’s complicated privacy settings. And since the company went public, more cynical users are just waiting for Facebook to sell them out in order to turn a profit. Facebook missed a real opportunity to clarify its values, and to fortify the individual contract it has with each person who uses the platform. Instead, we merely learned that Facebook is a “thing that connects people”—along with retrograde comparisons to chairs, doorbells and airplanes. If anything, these disingenuous metaphors may just raise the suspicions of skeptics further.

Believe it or not, I love Facebook. As a brand, it has an opportunity to capture the world’s imagination like few in history. There’s certainly no doubt that Facebook is a cultural game-changer. It is giving people power to share their lives and their ideas like never before. And, it’s not much like a chair, at all.

Matthew Egan is a strategy director for Siegel+Gale’s New York office.

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