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Facebook is now Meta, but its ads are as empty as ever

The company released its first brand ad under its new name, and it is as mystifying as its pivot to the metaverse.

Facebook is now Meta, but its ads are as empty as ever

As you may have heard last week, Facebook changed its name to Meta. Now it’s launched the first brand campaign under this new banner. A group of four students gather around Henri Rousseau’s 1908 painting Fight between a Tiger and a Buffalo. As they stare into its tropical colors, lush jungle, and paused violent action, the painting comes alive.

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We zoom into the canvas. What was once 2D is now all around us. The tiger looks up and says, “this is the dimension of imagination.” We flip and flop around, meeting toucans, flamingos, and what appear to be raccoons with human noses, all dancing to “Way in My Brain” by SL2. As they’re sucked into the painting, the students’ faces go from skepticism to acceptance, heads bopping, hypnotized by the beat. Entranced. It ends with the Tiger and Buffalo no longer fighting, just vibing. Meta.

Meta’s global director of brand marketing Jasmine Summerset-Karcie told AdAge that the goal of the spot (created with agency Droga5) is to share the vision of the company and “really excite people about the possibilities of the metaverse.”

What does it all mean? Not in a double rainbow sort of way, but really, what the holy hell is this exactly supposed to mean? So the promise of the metaverse lies in the multidimensional freedom of strolling into an early 20th Century avant-garde painting for a dance party? And Meta is meant to symbolize that promise?

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The reality is that Meta is just one company working on the technological challenges of the purported metaverse, and even then, dancing around a Rousseau with your friends is still a long, long way off. Which means that this ad is a stylish but empty distraction that says absolutely nothing about the brand, the metaverse, or the vision of the company formerly known as Facebook.

Back in 2012, plain ole Facebook launched its first major marketing push, timed to coincide with the ballyhooed billion-user milestone. That ad compared the social-media platform to a chair. Really! My colleague Joe Berkowitz described it at the time as “beautiful to look at, but it suffers from simultaneously overreaching and oversimplifying.” Sounds eerily familiar.

Facebook’s advertising has always been a bit defensive. In 2018, the company tried the earnest apology route with its “Here Together” spot, that was perhaps the closest it has ever come to saying sorry, while still painting itself as a victim. Still, it boldly said, “from now on, Facebook will do more to keep you safe and protect your privacy, so we can all get back to what made Facebook great in the first place.” That was three years ago.

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Last year the brand launched a tear-jerker ad celebrating a beloved New York neighborhood restaurant called Coogan’s that was forced to shut down during the pandemic. It’s a lovely tribute to a uniquely specific small business, until you remember that Facebook is the place where, according to advocacy group Avaaz, misleading health content had garnered an estimated 3.8 billion views over the past year.

So much has happened since then. So forget apologies or decisive action: “The Tiger & The Buffalo” is about misdirection. Forget about the revelations in The Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files. Or the testimony of whistleblower Frances Haugen. Or the new study that says climate change denial is spreading unchecked on Facebook. Hey, look over here! Check out these funky flamingos!

After the Meta rebrand announcement, Charlie Warzel wrote in his Galaxy Brain newsletter, “it reads to me like a declaration that the company can and will act with impunity. Here’s a company marching forward and optimistically into the future and ignoring the smoldering mess it made in the background.”

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When Rousseau painted Fight between a Tiger and a Buffalo, he was in prison for fraud. He’d never actually seen a tiger, or a buffalo, or a jungle. According to the description at the Cleveland Museum of Art where the painting hangs, it was a “fantastic jungle environment in which botanical accuracy was of little importance.”

For Meta, its new ad conjures its own fantastic jungle environment—and a similar commitment to accuracy.

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About the author

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

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