Why GM Turned on Facebook – and Why Social Media Users Are Doomed, Anyway

By Devon Glenn 

When GM pulled a $10 million ad campaign from Facebook, the industry shuddered at what that might mean for the rest of the social media ecosystem. It’s expected that venture-backed companies, especially those that are publicly traded, will figure out a sustainable way to earn revenue. But that’s not to say that social media sites are selling out their users without a fight.

AdAge reporter was able to dig up some dirt on how GM and other brands have reacted to Facebook’s advertising policies through the years. According to her sources:

Executives of agencies and research firms working with packaged goods and retail marketers said Facebook tends to resist new ad models, efforts to help the appearance and impact of display ads, and efforts to tag user profiles for use in a segmentation system. On the last point, one research executive characterized Facebook’s response like so: “The only thing that goes into a Facebook profile is what a user puts there.”

In the case of General Motors’ display ads, the brand wanted to take over an entire page, not just a banner ad on the side of the screen or a sponsored post in users’ newsfeeds, and was not allowed.

As for the look and feel of Facebook’s  current advertising options, Facebook’s VP-global marketing solutions Carolyn Everson told AdAge:

To create a way for brands to buy space for splashy creative on the platform, Facebook in February unveiled logout ads, which can be video-enabled and have been used by Ford Mustang, Subway and the “Titanic” movie rerelease. They aren’t disruptive to users, since they appear upon exiting the platform, Ms. Everson said.

But marketers argue that most people never log out of Facebook, and those who do tend to access it from public computers — not the audience marketers are trying to reach.

Facebook is certainly not alone in wanting to keep ads from overwhelming the layout. Tumblr’s David Karp, after years of refusing to sell ads, finally introduced sponsored posts on Tumblr Radar and Tumblr Spotlight, the company’s main discovery tools. He hopes that more advertisers will come up with fun ideas like the fashion blog that Lionsgate used to promote the Hunger Games film. Tumblr will also balance the branded content by saving some ad space for the creators who actually use the site. Currently, said Karp, “the state of digital advertising is uninspiring.”

As for reaching the right audience, while the research executives are right that Facebook users can and do hide their bio data, Facebook users can only hide so much of their personal information before the site becomes impossible to use.

The social network has already ensured that even the most sophisticated users won’t be able to hide from advertisers for long. The Israeli business publication Calcalist reports that Facebook is in the process of buying out the facial recognition software company Face.com. Facial recognition tools can find your face in pictures without a name tag, revealing more about your relationships, location, and lifestyle than you might be willing to put in your profile details. Even users who have private accounts will, at the very least, put up a profile picture so that old friends can find them on the site.

It’s not just about matching a face to a name. In a recent episode of Cubes, the mediabistro team took a tour of IPG headquarters, the high-tech workspace where commercials like the Geico Gecko and Volkswagen’s Darth Vader are created. At the 1:20 mark, IPG Media Lab director of strategy Natalie Bokenham shows how a facial recognition camera scans visitor’s faces when they walk into the office to determine their approximate ages and genders, signaling a wall of television screens to show targeted ads based on the results.

If Facebook and other social nets can’t remember your name, they’ll at least know your face.

Image by robertlamphoto via Shutterstock.