Back in 2012, I mentioned the curious case of VirtualBagel in one of my columns. The supposed London bagel shop was set up on Facebook as fake business by BBC correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones, who then bought proper Facebook ads asking people to "like" it. He racked up more than 1,600 likes within 24 hours, but curiously, most of them were coming from places like Indonesia, India, Egypt and the Philippines.
The video below, posted yesterday on the YouTube channel of Veritasium, a popular science video blog run by Sydney-based TV presenter Derek Muller, starts out with the story of VirtualBagel (which still, remarkably, exists on Facebook). But then it gets really interesting as Muller calmly, clearly, accessibly -- in the manner of your best high school science teacher -- explains his own more recent discouraging experience with advertising on Facebook to gain Facebook fans. Anybody who questions the value of Facebook likes -- and the wisdom of spending money to grow fan "communities" on Facebook -- will want to watch this video.
It's bad news for Facebook -- especially since the video has quickly gone viral, with more than 600,000 views as of this writing and momentum that should push it past the million mark later today.
Ad Age has asked Facebook for a response, so keep an eye here.
UPDATE: "Fake likes don't help us," a Facebook spokesman said in an email. "For the last two years, we have focused on proving that our ads drive business results and we have even updated our ads to focus more on driving business objectives. Those kinds of real-world results would not be possible with fake likes. In addition, we are continually improving the systems we have to monitor and remove fake likes from the system."
There's also something about the way Mr. Muller went about testing the system. "Just to be clear, he created a low quality Page about something a lot of people like -- cats," the spokesman said. "He spent $10 and got some people who liked cats to like the Page. They may also like a lot of other Pages which does not mean that they are not real people -- lots of real people like lots of things."
Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.
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