This is the look of someone who's just been hit with their third consecutive botox discount offer today. Photo: Uri Schanker
Online advertising in its myriad annoying forms is pretty unavoidable. For example, take my advice and don’t assuage a moment of boredom by using Amazon to send your literary minded best friend a copy of a remarkably filthy Viking themed Mills & Boon. Or rather, do it (because it will be hilarious), but be prepared for Amazon to remember this fact and to still be enthusiastically suggesting that you purchase ‘Truly, Madly, Viking’ several years later. It seems that no amount of Margaret Atwood will convince Amazon that I’m not a Viking-obsessed pervert.
But then, at least Amazon is avoidable, at least until I manage to sully my reputation with Book Depository or with the bricks and mortar bookshop down the street. Facebook, though, can seem fairly inescapable (tried organizing a social event without it recently?) and brings with it a whole new level of advertising intrusion. Herewith, then, is a taxonomy of Facebook ads as observed in the wild.
Type 1: The just plain rude
If we were going to assign personality traits to social media networks (and bear with me, because things are about to get real speculative here), Twitter would be the crazy dude at the bus stop who won’t stop ranting about how the presence of halal food in Woolworths is a violation of the ANZAC spirit, right?
Pinterest would be a yoga obsessed granola mom who runs an Etsy store selling grosgrain ribbon and hand-drawn cupcake stickers packaged into miniature mason-jars.
LinkedIn would be the guy who won’t stop trying to give you his business card, even though you’re at your grandma’s funeral. And Instagram would be a latte-drinker with a ukulele and a prominent tattoo of a Kurt Vonnegut quote.
Facebook, though, would be that douchebro who’s just heard about the concept of negging and thinks it’s really going to help him land some tail. Trying to have a quiet conversation with your friends? BAM – Facebook sleazes over, shirt unbuttoned, to tell you that you could be really beautiful if you just lost some weight. Just chilling out, watching some cat videos? POW – Facebook wonders whether you’ve ever considered Botox, because gosh you’re looking old these days.
The weight loss thing is particularly infuriating. I sent out a query to a group of women of my acquaintance, thinking that maybe I was the only one affected by the ‘one crazy trick to lose belly fat’ plague.
Hah, yeah, nope. None of us have Facebook pages unsullied by weight-loss ads - Facebook, it seems, believes that the universal constant among women is a desire to be thin. And incidentally, this small group featured one woman who has experienced an eating disorder, and who finds these ads extraordinarily difficult to cope with.
The whole thing makes me want to mash cake into my face while shrieking ‘HOW YOU LIKE ME NOW, ZUCKERBERG’.
Type 2: The eerily prescient
I am currently contemplating the possibility of some time working overseas. Facebook knew this before I told my family, my friends or my cranky feline overlord (cat), and started recommending travel insurance.
Facebook knows when I’m having trouble sleeping, and starts showing me herbal remedies. Facebook knows my shoe size, my contact lens prescription, and, creepily, my birth control preference. In fact I’m pretty sure that Facebook is staring through my window with a flashlight right now.
Type 3: The super unhelpful
That is, except when Facebook drops the ball and starts getting itself a little bit confused. Case in point: I spent the ‘90s in Tasmania, dividing my time fairly equally between going to school and reading novels in my bedroom while listening to No Doubt and Alanis Morissette on my Walkman.
At no point did I attend the University of Melbourne, nor have I ever completed a Commerce degree (a fact that will be attested to by any of the saintly teachers who spent the ‘90s unsuccessfully attempting to shovel basic numeracy into my head). Yet Facebook, for some reason, keeps trying to invite me to a reunion of ‘90s University of Melbourne Commerce graduates.
Everywhere, Facebook is getting fundamental aspects of our identities wrong – ushering gay men towards dating sites featuring toothy blonde women, inviting happily married couples in their early 30s to experience ‘online romance for mature singles’, asking Greens voters to show their commitment to ‘stopping the boats’ and so on. It’s quite comforting really, to think that maybe, just like the rest of us, Facebook has no idea about anything at all.