Zuckerberg’s Stage

Is this the end of advertising?

“Our business is advertising,” said Mark Zuckerberg who, although he was the penultimate speaker at the eG8 conference in a stultifying hot hall, managed to fill the room.

“Mine too,” said his interlocutor, Maurice Levy, the head of Publicis, who had organized the conference at the behest of President Sarkozy, and who saved the most famous interviewee for himself.

And yet they probably did not mean the same thing about which business they were in.

Curiously, there has not been much talk of advertising at the conference, even with Publicis leading the discussion, and even here, the elegant, gray-haired Levy did not seem to want to sully his conversation with the sneaker and T-shirt Zuckerberg (sweat circling under his arms) drinking his Gatorade.

Advertising, Levy seemed to imply, was not a subject on the level of the Facebook revolution and of the Zuckerberg phenomenon.

The phenomenon was in riveting form—a face and hair style and look now as iconic as any. He is more vivid than the screen character and pretty much the opposite character type. Not petulant and obsessive. Not math-y at all. But boyish, positive, simple, clarion—shockingly so.

He is here, no doubt, as the result of careful calculation. The biggest threat to his company is regulation. The biggest threat to his own position in his company is the idea that he might not be up to the job of representing Facebook to the political world.

But here he is, deft, charming, infinitely reasonable, and deeply modest about Facebook’s reach and power: no he would not say that Facebook played an important part in the Arab Spring—nice to think so, but far from true. And tomorrow, he goes on to be one of six people from the technology business to directly address the leaders of the G8 countries.

It is Zuckerberg on the world stage.

But back to advertising. In a discussion of such deference, and flirtation by the older man with the younger man, there is not much to grab hold of. But there is this: “This trend of people being empowered to share things that they want will be the trend for the next five or ten years. . . . ”

Zuckerberg probably means to share what they want to share. But it may just mean to share desires in general—impulses, hankerings, things.

“If you think about advertising, what’s going to be more effective than any advertising you show is something your friend says they like,” says Zuckerberg.

To which Levy, in the business of showing, rushes to say, “I agree that recommendation and endorsement from a friend is sometimes more powerful than the greatest ad.”

Like gaming has already become, says Zuckerberg, “music, movies, TV, news, books will become more social.” By which he means that Facebook believes it can let media vendors, like game makers, use Facebook as a new sort of distributor. Netflix will be, Zuckerberg suggests, first up to make this sort of deal. And music . . . he repeats music several times.

Friends advertising to friends, disintermediating Levy and Publicis.

Good to know.