Matt Powers is a contributor to The Onion, Onion Sports, and Onion News Network. He is the editorial/writers assistant at Thing X. He used to work as writers assistant and contributing writer to Onion Digital which brought to the world delights like "Sex House" and "Lake Dredge Appraisal". He has been asked several times but refuses to leave your driveway.
Advertisers are getting a lot of praise this morning for innovative and speedy twitter ads that were able to be posted immediately as the events of the Super Bowl unfolded, especially the unexpected power outage. Oreos leads with the most accolades, and while their ad was clever and I’m sure the designer who came up with it is proud of his/her quick thinking, this media lauding advertising function is troubling because it reaffirms that corporations deserve to advertise to us in any way possible as long as they keep it clever.
In its ideal, social media is a way for friends and family to connect with each other; share stories and pictures; and express what they like and dislike. Inevitably, this was corrupted by outside interests who wanted to change the narrative about what social media is, and what content should be “shared.” Facebook is flush with targeted ads that know users’ tastes eerily well. Twitter spouts out deals from retailers who attempt to get users to care about their brands in seemingly any way possible. Why do 333,000 people follow @TacoBell? I can’t think of a compelling reason. Media praise of social marketing seems to add gasoline to this fire, so that we stop questioning why it’s there, and instead look for the next “trending” witty ad to gawk at.
When we applaud big corporations for being clever, we are spreading the infection of advertising in the space that, ideally, is meant for only people. The media helps cement this new advertising in social media as the status quo. We no longer balk when we see ads all over the places that used to be for people, because we’ve gotten used to them and media praise helps to further this as precedent. Taco Bell doesn’t want to be your friend. Neither does Oreos manufacturer Nabisco. They don’t want to look through your baby shower pictures and they don’t want to share a great new band they just found with you. Or if they do, it’s only as an avenue to your wallet. One could say “Oreos was just having a little fun with it”, but I think this overlooks the paradigm-shifting nature of advertising in social media. The more “fun” they appear to be having, the more dangerous it is. Your friends have fun. Corporations have bottom lines.
This isn’t cynical (I don’t think), it’s actually more reflective of good business on the part of Oreos. Just like you don’t pay your Facebook friends to look at their status update or a TV show they “liked”, these companies don’t make any money if their tactics don’t result in you purchasing or popularizing their products so someone else will buy them. When Buzzfeed, Time, and The Huffington Post lavish Oreos with praise, they are blurring the line between “friend” and “corporation.” Similar to how you might retweet a funny thing your friend wrote, 15,000 people retweeted a funny ad. 15,000 people did, for free, what a whole team does, for money, at Oreos every day: expand the Oreos brand to more and more people. I’m not against companies advertising, and because of the inclusive nature of social media, we can’t bar them from this space either. Let’s just not revere them when they find new ways to disguise themselves as us.