New Facebook ads 'scary' and 'creepy'

Advertisers will be able to pitch products to user's friends under guise of recommendation

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Facebook is one step closer to changing from an online hangout to a business district.

It announced last Tuesday an upcoming Facebook program will allow users to share their buying habits and favourite brands with friends.

With a Facebook member’s consent, advertisers will be able to pitch products to the user’s friends as if it is the user’s recommendation.

For example, if someone booked a vacation with Travelocity, the online travel agency could display the user’s vacation photos in an advertisement " making the advertisements appear to be friends’ endorsements of the specific product or service.

Similar pitches will appear if Facebook members purchase anything from movies to clothing or even if they review a restaurant.

Jacquelyn Burkell, a professor of media, information and technoculture at Western, described this tactic as “viral marketing.”

“Viral marketing relies heavily on social networks ... advertising is becoming more and more targeted,” Burkell explained.

Facebook decided to ask its users if they wish to share their buying habits with friends, rather than launching the feature without user consultation.

Burkell noted last time Facebook implemented a new feature " automatic news feeds " without notifying users, it was met with backlash.

“A choice really mitigates people’s privacy concerns,” Burkell said.

“If Facebook markets it [as] a way of being able to share with your friends, then it will be successful, and that’s scary.”

The success of Facebook’s new program depends on the products being advertised, Darren Meister, a professor at the Richard Ivey School of Business, explained.

“Facebook is based on communities and trusted relationships,” he continued. “[It’s] easy for someone to say, ‘I just bought an iPod nano’, and if their friend is considering the same product, it might be enough to persuade them.”

The potential success of Facebook’s new method of advertising lies in the fact a lot of people just like to tell others what they’ve done, Meister suggested.

“[Facebook] is just one more avenue for people to talk about brands.”

Fourth-year media, information and technoculture student Shobhita Sharma described this method of advertising as “creepy.”

“I’m not going to sell my friends to Facebook,” Sharma said.

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