Here's what's great about Facebook's new brand spot from Wieden + Kennedy and Babel director Alejandro Iñárritu: It looks absolutely gorgeous.
Here's what's not so great about it: It won't do much to convince anyone that Facebook isn't, at its core, arrogant and condescending and not really to be trusted with the power it wields.
The social network just reached the hallowed 1 billion user mark, a truly amazing accomplishment. The new 90-second commercial, posted on a special Facebook page and teased from the log-in screen today, is timed to that milestone, and not surprisingly, takes a sweeping—indeed, cosmic—view of it. W+K was an inspired choice for an agency to deliver such a message; it makes some of the most poetic, big-picture advertising around. Unfortunately, in suggesting Facebook makes people feel a deeply human warmth, the spot might end up just leaving you cold.
It begins with an iconic-looking image of a chair levitating in a forest—a human artifact carved from the nature behind it—and then shows people of all colors and cultures sitting in them. (The ad, filmed in Portland, Ore., Los Angeles, New Orleans and Buenos Aires, truly looks incredible. It's one beautiful set piece after another.) Then comes the female voiceover.
"Chairs," she says. "Chairs are made so that people can sit down and take a break. Anyone can sit on a chair. And if the chair is large enough, they can sit down together. And tell jokes. Or make up stories. Or just listen. Chairs are for people. And that is why chairs are like Facebook."
The simplicity of the writing, and its cadences, are meant to hint at a grand and universal truth. But it's so simple as to feel dumbed down—like it's explaining something obvious to a child. "That is why chairs are like Facebook" also quickly deflates the atmosphere. (To some, it may be a laugh line.)
The next section expands the metaphor. "Doorbells. Airplanes. Bridges. These are things people use to get together, so they can open up and connect about ideas and music and other things that people share. Dance floors. Basketball. A great nation. A great nation is something people build so they can have a place where they belong."
We've gone from a chair to a bridge to a great nation. What's next? "The universe," says the voiceover. "It is vast and dark, and makes us wonder if we are alone. So maybe the reason we make all of these things is to remind ourselves that we are not."
A company that has 1 billion users probably thinks it can't overreach. Yet this ad does. Facebook's invention, the spot says, is as elemental as a chair—and as profound as art, the previous standard bearer for easing the pain of existential human angst. Except, of course, it's not—not really. It's a revolutionary way to communicate and share media and keep in touch. But it's a channel. That a billion people find Facebook useful doesn't mean they find it transcendent. It may cover the planet, but it doesn't speak for the planet.
This spot really could have worked. W+K's great strength is in celebrating humanity—whether saluting the love and loyalty of moms for Procter & Gamble or the struggle and perseverance of athletes for Nike. This Facebook ad wants to celebrate human beings and their yearning for connection. But mostly it celebrates Facebook—marveling at the invention, rather than at those who use it. That's a missed opportunity.
Facebook's reach is unprecedented. But it starts with people, not with chairs.
Project: "The Things That Connect Us"
Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.
Creative Directors: Karl Lieberman, Danielle Flagg, Eric Baldwin
Copywriter: Erin Swanson
Art Director: Brad Trost
Executive Producer: Matt Hunnicutt
Account Team: John Rowe, Leah Bone, Maggie Entwistle
Executive Creative Directors: Mark Fitzloff, Susan Hoffman
Head of Production: Ben Grylewicz
Interactive Creative Director: Dan Hon
Business Manager: Amber Lavender
Project Manager: Lauren Walker
Production Company: Anonymous Content
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Executive Producer: Eric Stern
Line Producer: John Benet
Director of Photography: Greig Fraser
First Assistant Director: Peter Kohn
Production Designer: Jeremy Hindle
Costume Designer: Erin Benach
Production Supervisor: Laura Miller
Editing Company: Joint
Lead Editor: Peter Wiedensmith
Co-Editor: Kelly Brickner
Assistant Editor: Alyssa Coates
Second Assistant Editors: J.B. Jacobs, Eric Hill
Audio Engineer, Mixer: Charlie Keating
Post Producer: Shelli Jury
Associate Post Producer: Lauren Pullano
Post Executive Producer: Patty Brebner
Research: Catherine Liu, Zoe Hoeltzel, Matt Hayes, Montea Robinson
Finish Mastering: David Jahns
Visual Effects Company: The Mill
Visual Effects Shoot Supervisors: Phil Crowe, Hitesh Patel
Lead Flame Artists: Phil Crowe, Glyn Tebbutt
Flare Artists: Robert Murdoch, Steve Cokonis
Nuke Artists: Becky Porter, Jake Maymudes
Computer Graphics Lead: Matt Longwell
Digital Matte Painter: Andy Wheater
Lead Telecine Artist: Adam Scott
Visual Effects Producer: Christina Thompson
Visual Effects Executive Producer: Sue Troyan
Telecine Producer: LaRue Anderson
Visual Effects Coordinator Radiance: Salem
Music: Explosions in the Sky
Music Executive Producer: Sara Matarazzo
Music Company: Search Party Music