Is That an Ad for Facebook?

Sprint, Dell Among the Marketers Devoting Their Ad Time to the Social-Networking Brand

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SAN FRANCISCO ( -- Lots of brands are giving Facebook a lot of face time in their advertising lately.

In a TV spot unveiled over the weekend to launch the Palm Pre, Sprint plugs Facebook to show that the social network is accessible and live on the smartphone. The commercial shows a day in the life of a rock vocalist, as her oversize Facebook page gets updated and refreshed through the day. Most of the 30-second spot belongs to Facebook, until a voice-over comes on at the 20-second mark to effectively make clear that the spot is a handset commercial.

Facebook has a prominent role in an ad for the Palm Pre.
Facebook has a prominent role in an ad for the Palm Pre.
But Sprint isn't the first and won't be the last to befriend Facebook in its ads. Apple built an entire 30-second commercial last year around the popular social network, showing how to access and interact with the application on the iPhone. Dell will be featuring a Facebook page in an upcoming direct-mail campaign to show users they can stay connected with their friends with a mobile-broadband-enabled computer, according to Janet Wenzel, who handles social networking for the computer maker's consumer business.

Facebook has also become the face of various wireless campaigns abroad that seek to drive home the message that cellphones can be used to access applications such as social media. Top European wireless providers Vodafone and O2, along with Rogers Wireless, a large Canadian operator, have made Facebook the key theme of commercials.

"These companies want to leverage the sheer popularity and passionate community that is associated with the Facebook brand, hoping to get prospective buyers to identify their product with a social-networking service that many of them use every day," said Anne Baker, CEO of Blue Creek Marketing.

Smart to target Facebook users
Experts say marketers are smart to target Facebook users. Through association with the social-media icon, brands can become immediately relevant to a user base loyal enough that half log in at least once a day. These users also represent an especially sweet spot for tech marketers as they skew toward early adopters. There are 200 million active Facebook users worldwide, and the fastest-growing demographic is 35 and older.

While hit gaming titles and songs have been tapped to sell Sony PS3s and iPods, some say the broad use of Facebook in big media executions is a step beyond that. "It's amazing that Facebook is openly promoted by these major brands," said Jerry Solomon, managing partner at Epoch Media. "I can't think of another time I saw a commercial that's basically saying, 'Use my product because it will help you get to this other brand.' [Apple] and Sprint just paid for a huge media push that promotes Facebook almost as much as the phone."

To others, the trend signals Facebook's arrival as a lifestyle. "A lot of marketers are starting to integrate messages around blogging, Twittering or Facebooking," said Steve Rubel, an Ad Age columnist and senior VP-director of insights at Edelman, which consults for Palm. "In all cases, it's just tapping into popular culture, which is something that advertisers have done for years."

Tracy Palmer, Sprint's director of national advertising said the Pre commercial uses Facebook as a "hook to show something unique that you have that's living and breathing and comes to life in the context of a phone." Ms. Palmer said Sprint will feature other popular sites familiar in forthcoming Pre TV spots.

Sending viewers to profile pages
While Mr. Solomon said Sprint was smart to tap Facebook, he thought the carrier could have come full circle by ending the commercial with a web address to bring the audience to its Facebook page. "Sprint should've relayed a more inclusive message, i.e., go to [our] Facebook page and tell us what you think. We want feedback; we want to make the phone better. Gain some ownership in the development of this device."

Brands such as Vitaminwater and Volkswagen, meanwhile, flash their Facebook addresses at the end of their commercials. Tactically, Mr. Solomon said, that's better than sending the audience to the brand's corporate website, which many consumers have little interest in visiting.

Another lesson: Direct association with Facebook is not a panacea for advertisers such as Sprint that still have far to go to build a viable brand. "If you're Sprint, which doesn't have the personality that's distinctly shaped and doesn't stand ... for a cool lifestyle, it might be more gimmicky and wishful thinking," said Eric Zeitoun, president at brand consultant Dragon Rouge. "It doesn't mean it can't go there, but it needs to do a stronger job on the basis of their brands as well."

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