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Facebook TV ads touting power of friendship reflect exodus of teens

Facebook risks being seen as struggling to halt a mass departure of teen users from its site with a television branding campaign in Canada and Britain that casts it as a family-reunion ground.

In the campaign launched this month in Toronto, Vancouver and Britain, warm, evocative ads that contain no call to action simply show bridesmaids huddled together, shedding a few tears, or two friends in a fender-bender, or two young mothers cradling their infants followed by the clincher headline, ?Friends.? Facebook?s turning to TV, a traditional branding tool, comes as the iconic site loses its status as the most important social network to adolescents to younger services such as Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr.

?The biggest challenge is that industry insiders and the two million Facebook advertisers funding this branding play will see it as a defensive move,? said Chelsea Whitaker, New York-based paid social media manager with M&C Saatchi Mobile. 

?The teen exodus of Facebook has been buzzed about for the past year, and this will only add fuel to marketers? fears.?

Power of connection
The ads focus on the power of connection between all types of people while subtly using the specific lexicon of the platform such as ?likes?, making it clear that Facebook is still the gold standard of online friendship.

In one ad, entitled, ?Our Friends,? rapid shots of togetherness stream forth beneath a running commentary beneath soft, instrumental music.

Changing each other by being friends.

The viewer sees two young boys run down a city neighborhood sidewalk together. A girl on a rural driveway waves to another in the back of a departing car. Two weathered codgers in a woods take a selfie together.

A voice is heard saying: ?They leave us a little bit different, leave us a little bit changed. So we leave behind proof of the time we spent together. 

?Someone showed us that we actually like country music,? the voice continues. ?Or helped us find our favorite Indian food. They drag us into their madness, make us hear their stories. 

?So we let their likes become our likes,? the voice says. ?And the things they shared become the things we shared. ?Each changes the trajectory of our life, simply by being our friend.?

The ad ends with the title ?Friends? with a checkmark next to it superimposed over a scene of three friends hanging out together in a family room, followed by the Facebook logo. 

?I would note that Facebook used both a filtered, almost Instagram-like aesthetic to lend a sun-dappled feeling of warmth to these videos ? a stark contrast to the sparse, white and blue platform interface itself,? Ms. Whitaker said. 
 
?These ads are branding the feeling of engaging with Facebook, rather that the platform itself.?
 
The Facebook ads speak to the site?s strengths as a network for sharing memories and experiences. 

?The ads seem to be a test to see whether Facebook can build loyalty, increase usage and attract new users via TV advertising,? said Chia Chen, executive vice president and managing director for digital products and services with DigitasLBi North America, Boston. 

?While the ads are beautifully made, I don't know if they address any of the fundamental reasons why younger users are choosing other social tools, like the messaging apps: the ability to connect in the moment,? he said. 

Facebook?s campaign aligns with a recent shift toward a reach and frequency approach versus social engagement. 

It is positioning itself to drive incremental revenue from television, while focusing on discovery and video as key drivers moving forward. By using traditional media, it can create a bridge and further align itself as a mass media entity in its own right. 

Core behaviors
?Facebook's campaign reinforces some of the core behaviors associated with why consumers engaged with the brand in the first place,? said Tom Edwards, executive vice president of strategy and innovation at The Marketing Arm, Dallas. 

?And it carefully highlights multiple audience segments, while reinforcing the value of connection.? 
 
Connecting people of all types.

Although Facebook?s mobile advertising revenue, a measure of its prominence, surged 69 percent in the latest quarter, the social networking giant is feeling the impact of shifting usage behavior, especially among the younger demographic. 

Brands such as Facebook are finding it harder to win over and keep teen consumers in part because of their mobile habits. As millennials mature and mobile habits change more broadly, other marketers are also likely to struggle in maintaining their grip on consumers.

Facebook?s waning popularity is partly due to its being useful only for a specific task and set of activities without covering a large part of the consumers and their activities and needs online.

Judging by the mobile habits of today?s teenagers, consumers in the future will spend their social networking time not in one central hub such as Facebook but across a variety of sites and apps.

In other words, as social networking via mobile becomes more the norm, niche-oriented offerings are likely to gain momentum by meeting the needs of individual audience segments. After all, teens are not going to feel comfortable communicating with their friends on the same site where their parents are posting photos of their children?s latest antics.

Young consumers are also looking for more personal ways to engage with friends.

This is why messaging apps such as WhatsApp and WeChat, both of which also have social components, are very popular with teens right now.

Facebook?s TV ads play to teens? perception of Facebook as a big family reunion where they post under the watchful eye of parents and other relatives.
 
Although it seems uncharacteristic for Facebook, a social media icon and a huge catalyst for cultural change, to reach out via television to promote its brand to audiences, the site actually has been branding itself for years. 

?Similar heartwarming videos focusing on friendship have been promoted by Facebook within its own feed,? Ms. Whitaker said. ?You can also think of many special, seasonal features as branding initiatives, not just gimmicks. 

?The Year in Review and Friendship in Review were designed to be virally shared, and pushed to reengaged people with their friends? best content.?

Viewing the ads
Facebook?s ad, ?Friends,? can be viewed on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOWRQfo-RGk

To watch the ad, ?Girl Friends,? go to:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QLUABAl_V0

Saying more about internal priorities than challenges.

The ads may say more about Facebook?s internal priorities than its challenges. 

?Facebook is acting more and more like an agency with both the creative talent and technical expertise to rival some of their biggest partners,? Ms. Whitaker said.

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York