Remember when Facebook was going to reinvent media and advertising? Its grandiose promise was that Facebook could deliver targeted ads with pinpoint accuracy, delivering ads that were perfectly aligned with people’s interests. As Mark Zuckerberg famously intoned in 2007, “Once every hundred years, media changes.”
If that’s the case, how come it’s now 2013 and my Facebook homepage is littered with ads that remind me of the cheap one-column ads you used to see in the back pages of “men’s magazines,” back in the day? Why am I getting all these crappy, annoying ads featuring women with enormous breasts urging me to learn a second language or buy solar panels?
It’s not just me. My buddy Lonn Johnston yesterday posted a copy of one of these obnoxious big-boob ads, because apparently they’re popping up in his feed too.
The problem isn’t the boobs, per se. I’m sure Lonn likes boobs as much as I do. But it’s the cheesiness. It’s all so low-rent and tacky.
Adding a touch of irony is the fact that Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, is a brainy accomplished woman who has just penned a book called Lean In, which is all about empowering women with a new brand of can-do, you-go-girl feminism. Sandberg has launched an organization and a website, Lean In, where women are urged to share stories that “paint a picture of the shared struggles and obstacles we all face.”
All well and good. And today is International Women’s Day, for what that’s worth, and Google is celebrating this with a doodle about women from around the world.
Meanwhile, here are some of the ads I’ve seen on Facebook over the past few weeks.
Then here comes her friend:
Spanish! Okay. I took it in college, but don’t remember much. Then comes this one:
French! Awesome. I could learn to pronounce croissant the way the cool academic types in Cambridge do. But I’m starting to notice a trend here. More of same here:
Here’s another, but this time she’s selling solar panels in Massachusetts:
Lean In? You Betcha
This gives new meaning to the phrase “lean in,” right? But seriously, what is this crap doing on Facebook? And what’s next, ads for X-ray specs and Charles Atlas muscle-building programs? Ron Jeremy male enhancement pills?
Look, I’m no prude. I get that Facebook needs to make money. I get that they’re under pressure. God knows, all of us who work in ad-supported businesses are searching for some kind of silver bullet, and in our search we’re all trying a little bit of everything.
But this stuff is just so cheap and inauthentic. And how does it square with Sheryl Sandberg’s mission to empower women? I don’t want to make too big a deal of this. I realize Sandberg doesn’t personally sell the ads or approve each one. But the contrast is a bit jarring.
I’m guessing Sandberg wrote her book because she intends to run for public office at some point, and that her global campaign (launched with A-list book parties like this one hosted by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg) is about raising her own profile and introducing herself to a wider audience. This is a woman who at age 27 was Chief of Staff to the U.S. Treasury Secretary. She’s still young (43) and her ambitions surely go way beyond playing second fiddle at a social networking company.
But while she’s still at Facebook, and since she’s so committed to empowering women, maybe Sandberg could do something about these ads. Not even out of any kind of feminist crusade, but just because, well, they’re stupid and obnoxious and a throwback to a kind of moronic advertising that long ago became obsolete.