In little more than ten years, Facebook has undisputedly become the biggest social media site in the Western world – and it has largely achieved this status without spending anything on traditional advertising.
So the launch of the first ad campaign specifically targeted at the UK last month was more of a seminal moment than some might initially realise. The activity, by Facebook’s in-house creatives, The Factory, consists of TV, digital and outdoor ads and kicked off on TV on 14 February during a Uefa Champions League match. It focuses on how the social media site helps to affirm friendships.
The creative brings together the narrative of the site – images of friendships, people connecting and having fun, taking selfies, dancing and even getting a tattoo of a friend’s name.
The voiceover talks about the value of friendship and refers to features on Facebook such as "likes" but does not directly refer to the site. At the end, the ad displays the Facebook logo.
The outdoor executions show different friendships and are overlayed with a tick and the word "friend".
"Our friends" was developed by the executive creative director, Scott Trattner, who is based in California.
Mindshare handled the media planning and buying in the UK.
Facebook’s previous global ad campaign of note ran in 2012 as it celebrated reaching one billion users. Much like the UK campaign, a TV spot in the US called "chairs" by Wieden & Kennedy made no reference to Facebook until the end.
While the current campaign escapes soft-focus spots the site could easily have turned to, there is still some debate about whether The Factory has succeeded in capturing the right tone.
Anil Pillai, the UK chief executive of DigitasLBi, calls it a "missed opportunity". He believes the ads still feel predominantly American, despite the voiceover’s British accent, and notes the use of "generic global hipster types".
"By trying to appeal to every possible demographic, Facebook has packed too many stories into each spot – meaning I struggle to connect emotionally with the story," he says.
YES Juliet Haygarth, chief executive, BMB
"I feared that Facebook was going to try and ‘own’ friendship in an act of chest-beating, glory-seeking. But it makes a good job of observing all the little things that add up to build the unassailable bonds between us and our closest friends."
NO Mark Hunter, executive creative director, SapientNitro London
"Facebook has become the Marmite of social media – loved and hated in equal measure by a certain generation (and increasingly overlooked by the next). I’m not sure this pretty but cloying campaign will convince many in the hate camp."
YES Caitlin Ryan, group executive creative director, Karmarama
"Facebook has achieved awareness and growth through activation, not by creating emotional connections with ads. It is right to do so now for its long-term brand health. The execution is a little saccharine but the strategy is right."
YES Rory Sutherland, vice-chairman, Ogilvy & Mather Group UK
"It works reasonably well. All major dotcom businesses spend far too little on conventional media, largely due to the notion that digital businesses should be promoted in digital media and nowhere else, not because of any evidence."