CANNES, France—Moments into his seminar at the Cannes Lions festival here Tuesday, Facebook's global head of brand design, Paul Adams, froze with panic and could not continue. In what he admitted was the biggest speech of his life, he blanked. His slides were of no use. The audience murmured nervously. All Adams could do was excuse himself, walk offstage, collect himself and start over. Which is what he did.
"That was the most anti-social thing I've ever done," he said ruefully.
Adams, a young Irishman, seems like a genuinely nice guy. He also recovered nicely to deliver a spirited and sweeping defense of Facebook's role in the modern world, as well as tips for ad-agency creatives who are compelled—whether they like it or not—to use it as a marketing platform. Still, what Adams later termed his "freakout" was just the kind of incident that has dogged Facebook lately. At crucial moments, with everything on the line, the world's great social network often doesn't seem quite sure of itself.
Adams did get on track, though, and not surprisingly, his presentation was full of humanism. Indeed, it was an epic tale that stretched back to caveman times, with stops at every major invention since the printing press, to illustrate that Facebook is part of a proud, un-scary tradition of tech advancement that facilitates and enhances the oldest of human emotions and interactions—things like trust and sharing. Oh, and it's great for advertising and branding, too.
Adams went so far as to suggest that Facebook is returning humans, in a way, to the time before the Industial Revolution. Back then, information moved only as fast as people, he said, and thus, you knew—and knew whether you could trust—everyone you interacted with. Personal relationships were everything. And through the social Web, he said, that is becoming true again.
"We can know things about businesses and brands before we've met them," he said. "What that means is that building relationships is once again front and center."
This everything-old-is-new-again theory applies to people's behavior within the new technology, too, he added. Their behavior doesn't change. They simply use the new tools to do what they've always done—just faster and better. Ad-agency creatives, he said, must study those behaviors—social interaction, identity, the basics of network science—to engage Facebook's 900 million interlocked users. In particular, he said, pay attention to the motivations behind the behavior and you'll see that it's nothing revolutionary, despite the revolutionary platform.