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Why Facebook put the focus on you for its first-ever Super Bowl ad

The social network’s big game commercial shines its spotlight on the lighter side of its platform.

Why Facebook put the focus on you for its first-ever Super Bowl ad

The first hint that Facebook would make its initial appearance in the Super Bowl ad sweepstakes this year dropped when Sylvester Stallone posted a cryptic Rocky tease in December that very quickly went viral.

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Facebook quickly confirmed that it was part of the brand’s first-ever Super Bowl spot, and Chris Rock would appear along with Sly during the big game.

Turns out that it—along with Rock’s own teaser—was a bit of a red herring.

The social network’s Super Bowl commercial would not be a 60-second buddy comedy between the two big stars, but rather a celebration of everyday people from an eclectic collection of Facebook Groups. We meet a Moab rock climbers group, a craft cocktail club, an experimental rocketry group, and many more, all to the tune of Twisted Sister’s “I Wanna Rock.” All these plays on the word “rock” wouldn’t be commercial-comedy-complete without, of course, Chris Rock and Rocky.

It’s silly, fun, and kinda dumb. Totally Super Bowl-y.

Created by Wieden+Kennedy, it’s also consciously shining the spotlight on you—the Facebook user—to get your attention as far away as possible from other things that you may have heard about Facebook in the last three years, ranging from criticism over its insistence on not fact-checking political ads to the spread of misinformation to its mishandling of Instagram passwords to concerns over personal data privacy.

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This ad spotlights what’s supposed to be the happy side of Facebook.

“Facebook’s consumer marketing strategy right now has two main facets to it: One is rebuilding trust with people using their products, and the other is building value around these apps, showing off positive ways to use the platform,” says W+K chief creative officer and co-president Colleen DeCourcy. She says that Facebook CMO Antonio Lucio, who joined the company in 2018, wanted to use real people in Facebook Groups. “They’re all real groups. Facebook insisted on that, because this is an homage to the people who make the platform what it is,” she says.

The spot continues the “More Together” campaign for Groups that launched last fall, and included a kazoo-themed ad during the Grammys.

This should be a Super Bowl ad home run. Huge global brand, with a product that provides almost unlimited fodder to play with, in the hands of one of the best ad agencies on the planet (if not the best) that just happens to specialize in making epic ads for iconic brands. W+K had its heavy hitters working on it, with creative vets who’ve created award-winning work for Old Spice and Nike, as well as agency chair and ad legend Susan Hoffman.

That firepower shines through in the results.

But.

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The thing about Facebook is that it’s a two-sided coin. For every piece of good, there is an equally ugly counter. For every Rock Buggies, there’s an anti-vaccination group. Just this week, Facebook wouldn’t remove a business page for a woman’s anus—posted when she was a 15-year-old minor—because it didn’t violate its community standards. She had been asking for three years, but it wasn’t removed until BuzzFeed reported on it.

You can have the greatest Super Bowl commercial or ad campaign ever made, and Facebook’s first-ever is pretty good, but the big game doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Launching a charm offensive like this amid all these other issues, in the wake of concerns this week about increased expenses and slowing revenue growth that led its stock swan-diving late last week, puts Facebook’s brand image somewhere between a rock and a hard place.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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