Facebook May Not "Get Marketing," But They Still Have A Great Brand

Last night I saw a TV commercial promoting Lay's Facebook contest where you can name your flavor and maybe win $1m.

Let me start by saying that I'm not a fan of potato chips, or Lay's, and normally could not care less about any commercial promoting same.  If I were to crave potato chips it would either be anything "kettle style" (except Utz, because I hate the name "Utz" and it seems cheap) or anything Pringle's, which always tastes very flavorful and indeed is very hard to put down (the famous tagline "Once You Pop, You Can't Stop." The logo is also great.

In any case I was watching TV and the commercial came on. It showed New York, a city still enveloped in myth and mystery for me, so I paid attention. Then there was Eva Longoria doing a Desperate Housewives bit in character, trying to get someone to pay attention to what she was saying. I didn't recognize the other person she was talking to, who seemed like a restauranteur-celebrity.

Eva was saying that the person should listen to her idea for a flavor for potato chips.

This seemed kind of humorous. I used to love on the show when she (in character) tried to convince husband Carlos of something. It reminded me of the "I Love Lucy" show where Lucy was always selling Ricky on her harebrained ideas.

The commercial went on and there were lots of people dancing in the streets of New York about their potato chip suggestions. It seemed so easy. And Eva had suggested "corn dog" flavor, hadn't she. Hm. I could beat that. A simple URL: www.facebook.com/lays.

At the URL it took me maybe 5 minutes to submit an idea. I was thinking, what could be good? And then it hit me - at the kosher deli we used to like to get falafel flavor "Bissli" (an Israeli snack). Fried bits of flour that tasted like falafel. That would be great in a chip!

The contest asked me to come up with a "backstory" or theme and then I started thinking...falafel is one of those foods unique to the Middle East, that people of all nationalities and faiths enjoy. Meaning - this food could be the key to Middle East peace. (If you watched the movie "Don't Mess With The Zohan" with Adam Sandler you know this is not a new concept, except there it was hummus.)

Anyway, I had a lot of fun entering the contest. I have no real idea how to promote my chosen flavor. So I don't know if I have any chance of winning, period. But the best part of it was that I finally discovered the mystery that has been eluding me for so long.

Which is: What is the essence of the Facebook brand - not for the brand's producers, but its consumers?

This is not going to be anything new to most of you. It's not totally new to me. But because I experienced it so vividly firsthand, I feel like I can articulate it better.

The essence of the Facebook brand is that it provides a blank slate, on a level playing field, for you to develop and communicate your unique identity. 

As you customize your page and come up with new ideas, you are really embarking on a discovery process about who you are. And it works better the less you are worried about building a brand and the more you simply engage in it.

While it's true that there are all kinds of concerns about learning about yourself in such a public way, for me the benefits have outweighed them. I feel more confident and at peace with a canvas before me and the world as my palette.

In any case, it is surprising to me that such a seemingly valuable company doesn't do more to explain itself to the consumer at all. You could argue that it's a form of brand genius that they are such non-marketers, but with so much money at stake, it also seems like a form of incompetence.

Nate Elliott at Forrester research makes a similar point in the Forbes article "Why Facebook Still Doesn't Get Marketing." My feeling is - if you're not going to do marketing, or branding, then don't. But if you are, then you should know what you're doing.