Facebook is meta now, but its ads are as blank as ever
As you may have heard last week, Facebook changed its name to Meta. The first brand campaign is now starting under this new banner. A group of four students gather around Henri Rousseau’s 1908 painting Fight Between a Tiger and a Buffalo. As they stare into the tropical colors, lush jungle, and intermittent violent action, the painting comes to life.
We zoom into the canvas. What was once 2D is now all around us. The tiger looks up and says, “That is the dimension of the imagination.” We turn and flap around, meet toucans, flamingos and what appears to be raccoons with human noses, all of whom dance to “Way in My Brain” by SL2. As they are drawn into the picture, the students’ faces change from skepticism to acceptance, their heads banging, mesmerized by the beat. Enthusiastic. It ends with the tiger and the buffalo no longer fighting, just vibrating. Meta.
Jasmine Summerset-Karcie, Global Director of Brand Marketing at Meta, told AdAge that the aim of the spot (created with the Droga5 agency) is to share the company’s vision and “really get people excited about the possibilities of the Metaverse “.
What is that supposed to mean? Not in some kind of double rainbow, but really, what the hell is that supposed to mean exactly? So the promise of the metaverse lies in the multidimensional freedom of strolling into an avant-garde painting from the early 20th century for a dance party? And is Meta supposed to symbolize this promise?
The reality is that Meta is just one company working on the tech challenges of the alleged metaverse, and even then, dancing through a rousseau with your friends is still a long way off. This means that this ad is a stylish but empty distraction that says absolutely nothing about the brand, metaverse, or vision of the company formerly known as Facebook.
As early as 2012, Facebook simply launched its first major marketing push, which coincides with the arrogant billion-user milestone. This ad compared the social media platform to a chair. For real! Back then, my colleague Joe Berkowitz described it as “beautiful to look at, but at the same time suffers from being overwhelmed and simplified”. Sounds incredibly familiar.
Facebook’s advertising has always been a bit defensive. In 2018, the company tried the serious apology path with its “Here Together” spot, which perhaps came closest to apologizing while still portraying himself as a victim. Still, it boldly says, “From now on, Facebook will do more to protect you and your privacy so we can all get back to what made Facebook great in the first place.” That was three years ago.
Last year the brand launched a lurid ad celebrating a popular New York neighborhood restaurant called Coogan’s that had to close during the pandemic. It’s a lovely tribute to a unique small business, until you remember that Facebook is the place where advocacy group Avaaz says misleading health content received an estimated 3.8 billion views over the past year.
So much has happened since then. So forget about excuses or decisive action: The Tiger & The Buffalo is about being misled. Forget about the Wall Street Journal Facebook file revelations. Or the testimony of the whistleblower Frances Haugen. Or the new study that says that climate change denial is spreading unchecked on Facebook. Hey take a look! Check out these funky flamingos!
After the announcement of the meta-rebranding, Charlie Warzel wrote in his Galaxy Brain newsletter: “It reads like a declaration to me that the company can and will act with impunity. Here a company is marching optimistically into the future and ignoring the smoldering mess that it has created in the background. “
When Rousseau painted the fight between a tiger and a buffalo, he was in prison for fraud. He had never seen a tiger, a buffalo or a jungle. According to the description in the Cleveland Museum of Art where the painting hangs, it was “a fantastic jungle setting where botanical accuracy was of little concern”.
For Meta, the new ad conjures up its own fantastic jungle environment – and a similar commitment to accuracy.