The social graft

“Once every hundred years media changes,” boy-coder turned big-thinker Mark Zuckerberg declared today at the Facebook Social Advertising Event in New York City. And it’s true. Look back over the last millennium or two, and you’ll see that every century, like clockwork, there’s been a big change in media. Cave painting lasted a hundred years, and then there was smoke signaling, which also lasted a hundred years, and of course there was the hundred years of yodeling, and then there was the printing press, which was invented almost precisely 100 years ago, and so forth and so on up to the present day – the day that Facebook picked up the 100-year torch and ran with it. Quoth the Zuckster: “The next hundred years will be different for advertising, and it starts today.”

Yes, today is the first day of the rest of advertising’s life.

I like the way that Zuckerberg considers “media” and “advertising” to be synonymous. It cuts through the bullshit. It simplifies. Get over your MSM hangups, granddads. Editorial is advertorial. The medium is the message from our sponsor.

Marketing is conversational, says Zuckerberg, and advertising is social. There is no intimacy that is not a branding opportunity, no friendship that can’t be monetized, no kiss that doesn’t carry an exchange of value. The cluetrain has reached its last stop, its terminus, the end of the line. From the Facebook press release: “Facebook’s ad system serves Social Ads that combine social actions from your friends – such as a purchase of a product or review of a restaurant – with an advertiser’s message.” The social graph, it turns out, is a platform for social graft.

The Fortune 500 is, natch, lining up. Coke’s in, big-time:

The Coca-Cola Company will feature its Sprite brand on a new Facebook Page and will invite users to add an application to their account called “Sprite Sips.” People will be able to create, configure and interact with an animated Sprite Sips character. For consumers in the United States, the experience can be enhanced by entering a PIN code found under the cap of every 20 oz. bottle of Sprite to unlock special features and accessories. The Sprite Sips character provides a means for interacting with friends on Facebook. In addition, Sprite will create a new Facebook Page for Sprite Sips and will run a series of Social Ads that leverage Facebook’s natural viral communications to spread the application across its user base.

Infect me. I’m yours.

Facebook, which distinguished itself by being the anti-MySpace, is now determined to out-MySpace MySpace. It’s a nifty system: First you get your users to entrust their personal data to you, and then you not only sell that data to advertisers but you get the users to be the vector for the ads. And what do the users get in return? An animated Sprite Sips character to interact with.


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32 Responses to The social graft

  1. Max Christian Hansen

    Ooooohhhhh! So that’s it!

    All day long since I read Jeremiah’s report on this, I was thinking I didn’t quite understand it.

    Now I realize I understood it just fine but didn’t /believe/ it. It was my old beyond-benefit-of-doubt mechanism: “This just can’t be as lame as I think it is, so I must be seeing it wrong.”

    But, yeah, it’s that lame. Thanks for clarifying, Nick.

  2. Who said OpenSocial was a bad idea (and MySpace was ugly)?

  3. Norm Potter

    Wonderful take, Nick!

  4. Al

    I’m glad you didn’t use an ounce of sarcasm here.

    Nice one, cheered me up after a bad Vista install experience today.



  5. User = Eyeballs is obnoxious, but at the same time I can’t help thinking “Don’t kill the messenger”.

    The unwillingness of media consumers to pay for media – and the willingness of companies to sponsor the media instead is hardly an evil scheme cooked up by Zuckerberg.

  6. These advertising plays from FB and MySpace do remind creepily of AmWay, I must say.

  7. Great Post as always, Nick.

    Facebook’s ploys, I get but what boggles me is how desperate, ignorant and foolish advertisers really are.

    I have tried to summarize how Facebook’s new ad system is evil on Mediavidea blog.

  8. Robert Handrow

    Grabbed your RSS only a few days ago but I’m already enthusiastic over the perspicuity and sharpness of your analysis.

    “The social graph, it turns out, is a platform for social graft.”

    Nailed down.

  9. alan

    Boy-coder turned big thinker . . . . . . . ouch Mr. Carr that sort-a stings just a little. If words were knife blades sliced and diced comes to mind but there are apparently no random numbers in Mr. Zuckerberg’s world.


  10. an

    Great post Nick !!

    Another great thing about facebook is its ability to recreate rarity where it disapeared, that is you can offer limited edition images for one dollar ! (Hurry up, only 54 left !)

  11. Sid Steward

    Google’s social network won’t need people — they’ll use AIs like Sprite Sips. Who needs chess-playing AIs when you have AIs that push product?

  12. bobo

    This is all nice. But please tell me: who, ever, would want to ever use something like this “sprite sips” garbage?

    You mean I can go buy Sprite, look under the cap, and my “sprite sips” character might learn a new dance or something? Sign me up!

    Who was it that said “you can never go broke by underestimating human stupidity”?

  13. How depressing. They had a chance to do it right, and they’re replicating the old boss all over socialciety.

    sprite sips? oh god.

    i’m going analog. i hear it’s the new digital.

  14. Simon

    I’m a name, not a product.

  15. The issue is that there are only a few brands that people want to do this for (recommend to their friends) and we all know which brands those are (i.e. Apple).

    Most marketers and products simply aren’t very good (or at least aren’t extraordinary) and people don’t care enough to talk about it with their friends:

    “Hey John! I just had a Sprite this morning. It was awesome! You should drink Sprite too!!” … will never happen.


    “Hey John, check out my new iPhone…” is already happening.

    The danger here is that a lot of brands that should be spending their time building Apple-style loyalty will instead spend their time begging people to recommend them on Facebook. In turn, people will simply stop using Facebook.

  16. p

    >The Coca-Cola Company … will invite users to

    >add an application to their account …

    So let me get this straight: the success of Tivo was because people could flip through the ads. So ad people people _went to court_ to prevent you from doing.

    And someone thinks people will _of their own free will_ ADD advertising to something that doesn’t have to have it?????

  17. Daniel I think you are overlooking the power of subliminal advertising. If you hear and see enough of your friends drinking (taking sips of) Sprite – someday you’ll look down and see a Sprite in your hand without anyone ever asking you.

  18. It will be interesting to see how Facebook behaves. Focusing on targeted ad is one thing, but will it keep the users in mind first, or will it cave in to Coca-Cola and such who will pressure it to put their ads everywhere?

  19. Nick, thank you for slicing through yesterday’s spin. Why the H. would I want Coca-Cola as a friend? Is one’s bank account balance dynamically inversely proportional to their common sense?

  20. There’s a book called “Rainbows End” written by Vernon Vinge that takes place in 2025 or so that paints a pretty vivid picture of a world in which everyone is peddling “affiliances” to everyone else, and fractions of pennies are doled out to folks for just about every action.

    The main difference between Vinge’s vision and Zuckerburg’s is that Vinge at least gives the consumers a cut.

  21. Great post Nick – this is by far the funniest take on the silly Facebook initiative to have me thank them for selling my eyeballs to advertisers.

    Dude .. this post is so extraordinary in scope that you have single-handedly ushered in the *next generation* of Sarastic Media some 100 years before it’s projected arrival!

  22. Mark

    I read recently that facebook is in bed with the CIA and other Gov. agencies and I was wondering how true this is? Are they tracking our navigation for the Gov? Do I need to be concerned about this?

  23. Clap, clap, clap. Brilliant post.

  24. Facebook? Myspace? How about the LDS take on myspace:

  25. I would like to see you and Tim O’Reilly on stage in one of them thar’ fancy invited panel discussions.

    I think you have a dagger for the heart of the weak parts of Tim’s recent message to the world and that the two of you would find hecka big amounts of stuff to agree upon beyond that. So, y’know, it’d be all dramatic *and* productive, as eventuful conversations go..


  26. Kendall Brookfeld

    I briefly worked for a company doing an instant messaging app that tied into MySpace and similar stuff, and I suddenly found myself immersed in this kind of ridiculous marketing fluff. Marketers/advertisers do delude themselves, probably because they live in that world every day and lose touch with reality, but also because conventional advertising is under serious threat and they don’t know what to do about it.

    On the other hand, some of these cheesy promotional schemes really work and people, esp. the kids that marketers covet, willingly participate. You have to cast your mind back to childhood to understand some of this stuff, and one “creative” guy the company hired was sought after precisely because his forty-year-old body contained a juvenile mind (which, predictably, meant he was a complete flake).

    I agree with others: RoughType has become a must-read.

  27. Facebook will actually benefit Google by pushing more people to acquire brands.

    Facebook users will endorse brands, not specific sellers so much. It’s cool to endorse Coke, but not so much Safeway.

    People will get their appetite on Facebook, but Google will grow even larger satisfying the appetite:

  28. >> I briefly worked for a company …

    Is there an echo in RT? Why do people only “work briefly” for these web 2.0 type companies? Inquiring minds want to know ….! ;)

  29. Well said. Even though I only ever really dipped in and out of Facebook, I still feel strangely betrayed.

    The tracking-you-across-the-internet thing is particularly distasteful.

  30. eenymeeny


    Super take on the subject and as refreshing as Sprite isn’t.

    On the subject of personal data and Facebook, I recently queried them on what exactly they actually delete when one leaves the service. Those who have tried to will know that Facebook actually says words to the effect “Hey, leave, OK! But log in with your old email any time and all your profile stuff will magically re-appear!”.

    Since I don’t need to be Einstein to realize that with Facebook “canceling your account” obviously != “deleting all my data thank you”, I wrote them an email asking about what actually happens.

    Here is their reply:

    “If you deactivate, your account, and any information associated with it, is removed from the site. However, we do save your profile content (friends, photos, interests, etc.), so if you want to reactivate someday, your account will look just the way it did when you deactivated.

    If you want your information removed from our servers, we can do this for you. However, you need to first log in and delete all profile content. Once you have cleared your account, let us know, and we’ll take care of the rest. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.”

    Very helpful Facebook, very helpful.

  31. Excellent post Nick. It strikes me that FB is just webbifying the Harley Davidson playbook of conversationl marketing.

    The funny thing is that the biggest side effect of this is a hot mergers and acquisitions sector in 2008. Just watch those law firms profits soar..

  32. Oh, for the good old days! Advertising was so much simpler when there were only three TV networks!