Spybook

frogs While vacationing this week, I had the displeasure of sitting through much of The Social Network. Before I saw it, I was virtually certain that it would do for Facebook what its screenwriter Aaron Sorkin did for the U.S. Presidency, namely execute a clever but thorough whitewash. I was right. A rock should fall on all the pampered, egocentric ciphers behind Facebook. But, by exploiting the old “They just wanted to watch the money” principle, Sorkin manages to flip the inklings of that sentiment and make all the vacant psychos involved seem somehow cool and aspirational. Indeed, the last line in the film is about how Mark Zuckerberg is “the world’s youngest billionaire.”

Sorkin’s film is, of course, silent on the ulterior purpose of Facebook, which is to deploy what appears to be just a new way to stay in touch with friends but is actually a huge, screamingly invasive and profitable engine for marketing research, a.k.a. corporate spying.

Here is a snip from today’s Advertising Age on Facebook’s latest advance:

This month — and for the first time — Facebook started to mine real-time conversations to target ads. The delivery model is being tested by only 1% of Facebook users worldwide. On Facebook, that’s a focus group 6 million people strong.

The closest Facebook has come to real-time advertising has been with its most recent ad offering, known as sponsored stories, which repost users’ brand interactions as an ad on the side bar. But for the 6 million users involved in this test, any utterance will become fodder for real-time targeted ads.

For example: Users who update their status with “Mmm, I could go for some pizza tonight,” could get an ad or a coupon from Domino’s, Papa John’s or Pizza Hut.

The real story of Facebook is that, as “social networking” software, it was a moderately clever idea and minor technological breakthrough. The government, if it were ever allowed to compete with private enterprises, could sponsor or directly develop an excellent substitute for that in a month, and make it non-commercial and secure. But that wouldn’t serve the corporate overclass, would it? They are looking — and paying — for exactly what Zuckerberg and his buddies are providing: new ways of gathering free information about the details of people’s off-the-job activities.

None of that makes it into Sorkin’s sly, product-placing paean to privileged whoredom.

Honda “Experiment” Tests Shallowness, Vanity

narc Honda Motor Company is running a marketing campaign packaged as a “social experiment.” The cover story is to see how much people “love” Honda automobiles by inviting them to post personal photos and blurbs on the Facebook “social” networking site.

The truth, of course, is that what Honda is really testing is how effectively they can convert people’s petty vanity and sheer programmability into still more irrational brand loyalty.

Have people been falling into this trap?

The results thus far have blown away Mr. Peyton, who felt at the campaign’s onset that “If we got a million connections, that would be cool.” He called the push “a pretty powerful piece of advertising because people are buying into it and we aren’t giving anything away.”

Honda initially supported the site with a sprinkling of ads on Facebook. “It wasn’t a big media buy, but it got a lot of attention,” said Tom Peyton, senior manager-national advertising. Earlier this month, TV was added to the mix, with 15- and 30-second spots featuring actual owners. The commercials were created by Honda’s longtime agency, independent RPA, Santa Monica, which developed the concept. The buy, also handled by RPA, encompasses prime-time programming such as “30 Rock,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “Dancing With the Stars” and NFL football.

The campaign got a huge boost after a one-day targeted homepage takeover Oct. 19 on high-reach sites, including ESPN.com, CNN.com and SportsYahoo.com. That more than doubled the number of Facebook fans into the range of 1.7 million. (As of press time Oct. 22, the number had topped 2 million).

Footnote: As of this morning, the number of victims of this campaign is approaching 2.5 million.