Facebook to enlist user's pals in ads

Pitches to involve friends who agree to endorse products

November 07, 2007|By New York Times News Service

Facebook wants to put your face on advertisements for products that you like.

Facebook.com is a social networking site that lets people accumulate "friends" and share preferences and play games with them. Each member creates a home page where he or she can post photographs, likes and dislikes and updates about their activities.

Yesterday, in a twist on word-of-mouth marketing, Facebook began selling ads that display people's profile photos next to commercial messages that are shown to their friends about items they purchased or registered an opinion about.

For example, going forward, a Facebook user who rents a movie on Blockbuster.com will be asked if he would like to have his movie choice broadcast to all his friends on Facebook. And those friends would have no choice but to receive that movie message, along with an ad from Blockbuster.

Facebook says that many of its 50 million active users already tell friends about particular products or brands they like, and the only change will be that those communications might start to carry ad messages from the companies that sell them.

Facebook is letting advertisers set up their own profile pages at no charge and encouraging companies such as Blockbuster, Conde Nast and Coca-Cola to share information with Facebook about the actions of Facebook members on their sites.

As eager as advertisers are to tap into the rich trove of information that people freely offer about themselves on sites like Facebook and MySpace.com, there are nevertheless growing concerns about the privacy issues raised by such tactics.

Facebook's announcement yesterday came just a few days after a Federal Trade Commission hearing in Washington about online privacy and customized ads. The FTC expressed concern that advertisers may have access to too much information about people's online activities.

Facebook says it is using only information that its members choose to share. And, while the site is using the information on behalf of advertisers, Facebook is not giving it to marketers, said Chris Kelly, Facebook's chief privacy officer.

Facebook's much-anticipated plan - which the company calls "social advertising" - was revealed yesterday at a gathering of advertising executives and reporters in New York.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's chief executive, spoke in grand terms about of the death of mass advertising and said that in the future ad messages would increasingly be conveyed from friend to friend through online networks.

Facebook users will not be able to avoid these personally recommended ads if they are friends with participating people. Participation can involve joining a fan club for a brand, recommending a product or sharing information about their purchases from external Web sites.

Zuckerberg said he thought this system would make the site feel "less commercial," because the marketing messages will be accompanied by comments from friends. When asked about people who might not like ads, Zuckerberg said, "I mean, it's an ad-supported business."

Some analysts said the Facebook approach could backfire.

"Just because you like Reebok doesn't mean I am going to like Reebok," said Jeremiah Owyang, a senior analyst at Forrester Research.

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