Why the Facebook chase is making brands treat consumers like morons

You know how we look back at quaintly patronising ads from the 1950s and wonder what on earth the advertisers were thinking?

I’ve got a feeling that in a few years time, we’ll be looking at the behaviour of big brands on Facebook the same way.

An entire generation of marketers – or at least a sizeable proportion of them – have lost their minds.

So many have become so obsessed with generating user interactions at all costs, that all thoughts about overall brand perceptions or long term marketing goals have vanished. All that counts now, is generating likes and comments at all costs.

It’s been going on for a while. But today a post from KFC Australia made me want to smack my forehead against my computer screen.

It could have been virtually any brand currently on Facebook. But it happens to be one from KFC that makes me just ask: how did social media marketing become so dumb?

The question that pushed me over the edge was this faux debate: Would followers prefer a home cooked roast made lovingly by their grandmother, or a chicken wrap from KFC?

Or as KFC Australia put it: “Bland Sunday roast with Nanna? Or a flavour packed Grilled Twister Salsa?”

kfc question

Now, the social media team at KFC may be idiots, but they aren’t cretins. I think we have to credit them with the fact that they probably know how most  people would answer that question.

The suggested mechanism for responses is to urge people to comment if they support nannas and to click like if they want to vote for a junkfood takeaway.

roast vs kfc

kfc responses Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 3.14.54 PM Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 3.14.33 PMThe result in the comment thread is a cavalcade of support for grandma’s cooking. Of course.

The first though on looking at that is that KFC has just learned the  hard way that you don’t mess with Australia’s grandparents.

As I write, three hours on from the KFC post going live, it’s already attracted nearly 300 comments. And I was unable to find any pro-KFC comments among them.

It turns out that Australians like their nannas more than they do The Colonel.

And they like roasts more than they do KFC.

And if they have to choose between seeing the dear departed nannas again, or the Colonel dropping dead, then the old boy’s time is up.

Who’d have thunk it?

And this is where we come back to KFC not being cretins, but merely idiots.

This, I’m pretty sure, is the response they wanted.

Because it all comes down to chasing algorithms. Facebook EdgeRank decides how many people to show posts to based in part on how viral previous messages have been, and also on whether people have interacted with previous messages from the brand. If you like or comment a post, Facebook is going to show you more messages from this brand in the future.

But think about what this means in practice. The people most likely to see KFC messages next time are those who went out of their way to talk about the idiocy of the brand.

And to keep delivering this reach, brands have to do this again and again.

At best, the questions are merely patronising. At worst, damaging for the brand.

And of course, KFC isn’t the only one behaving like it thinks its consumers are idiots.

Condescending Corporate Brand Page is full of examples from Australia and around the world.

There’s the awkward plea, such as this one from Telstra:

facebook telstra


And the apparently-hard-but-actually-easy quiz designed to tickle the egos of simpletons, such as this one from Triple M:

triple m quiz


And another example of the same thing from Telstra:

telstra phoen quiz



And this classic of the genre from Honda UK:

honda lawnmower



At least Woolworths Everyday Rewards apologised later for this one:

everyday rewards facebook


The tapping-into-age-old-questions:

facebook toilet roll


The manipulative:

dove facebook


The “game” that’s really a painful chase for interaction from Arnott’s:

arnotts facebook

Doomed attempts to start a meme, such as this by Kerrang magazine:

kerrang pizza facebook

Or emotional blackmail, as demonstrated by Lindt Australia:

lindt facebook

And by sellitonline during the bushfire emergency:

sellitonline bushfires

But what they all have in common is the chase for interaction with no consideration for what the behaviour of the brand says to the passively watching audience about its apparent contempt for them.

What’s easy to measure is interactions and reach – so that’s what the brands are doing. But they are failing to ask the harder questions about the purpose of being there in the first place. And what their childish quizzes say about what should often be intelligent brands.

As David Ogilvy said half a century ago, “The consumer is not a moron; she is your wife”.

Sadly, the brand has become a moron; it’s on Facebook.

Tim Burrowes


  1. Didier
    16 Jun 13
    5:48 pm

  2. You forgot Westpac’s, “What’s your favourite colour?”

  3. GC
    16 Jun 13
    6:04 pm

  4. This behaviour + FB’s continued punishment by funneling the same content at you via EdgeRank has now made Facebook an irrelevant platform for me in a personal context. Facebook Events used to be the primary way my social group organised, now irrelevant due to all the additional crap around profiles. Timeline used to be the place to find out whats up with mates all over the world, now irrelevant due to the illogical presentation and sponsored content. How long before all the selfies and party shots disappear to GroupMe and Snapchat and all that’s left is baby drool-pics from some dude you met at a music festival a decade ago?

  5. Kate Richardson
    16 Jun 13
    7:56 pm

  6. Out.of.control.

  7. CJ
    16 Jun 13
    9:12 pm

  8. #embarrased!

  9. Shabbadu
    16 Jun 13
    9:25 pm

  10. It depends on how you’re measuring the success of your page. If it’s by amount of likes, comments and shares (which most do) whoever is running the page will try to post things that encourage that behaviour. Sure, half of the comments might be people hating on you, but they’re statistics! That’s why you get (some) brands jumping on populist bandwagons. Likes are like some sort of narcotic.
    How can you convince a Marketing Manager to stick to a storyline when they’re getting better results with fart jokes, quizes aimed at simpletons and questions about who’s going to win a sporting contest?

  11. OtherAndrew
    17 Jun 13
    12:52 am

  12. My thoughts exactly, very well written piece about something that’s irritated me as much as it has obviously irritated you. I’m sure you’ve covered some positives before, but it would be good to highlight brands like Air NZ and Vicks who are at the opposite end of the spectrum and doing a great job.

  13. Tom
    17 Jun 13
    8:51 am

  14. One of the best bits of commentary in here recently.
    More like this!!

    Thank YOU! There really needs to a way to differentiate between brand bashing and brand support. I “like” many political party pages so I can see what they are saying, not because I actually like them. Same goes for many brand pages.

    “Any press is good press” was only true when media wasn’t burrowing into our brains every second of the day. Now it’s a cacophony and we can pick and choose what we decide to ignore.

  15. Shamma
    17 Jun 13
    9:35 am

  16. “Brand name is against racism. Click like if you are against racism, or do nothing if you support it and are a horrible person.”

  17. Walt
    17 Jun 13
    9:36 am

  18. Maybe you could also say that brands are getting lazy with their social media strategies instead of really building a community…the algorithm game may be played to effect but if you’re straying from the core values and just aiming for hits, likes, retweets and so on isn’t that just quantity over quality?

  19. Good Moron
    17 Jun 13
    9:36 am

  20. Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me!


    Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me! Like me!

  21. Jess
    17 Jun 13
    9:40 am

  22. Some of the best behaved social media marketers are from fashion labels – they have it figured out. Forever New is one of the best. They encourage users to post pictures of themselves wearing their clothing, and give out monthly vouchers to the best dressed. Actual interaction, and there is a tangible reward for participating. Other sites use discounts, or advertise sales – Lorna Jane do this well. Much better than asking me what my favourite colour is or asking me to name movies.

  23. Kimota
    17 Jun 13
    9:49 am

  24. This has been one of my pet hates for a long time as it not only demonstrates contempt for the audience but also shows how marketers are targeting all the wrong metrics.

    How do likes, engagement etc matter if they don’t contribute to a concrete business goal? If the marketers have managed to convince their CEO or client that likes/engagement and EdgeRank are the metrics on which to judge success, then they’ve merely sold in the easiest KPIs to fudge to get their fee.

    But if they believe EdgeRank is the goal itself – because, hey, we get more exposure for the brand and that’s got to be worth something right? – then this is no more than the new equivalent to all those black hat or dodgy SEO tricks wiped out by Panda and Penguin. Crap content and dodgy links to get on the first page of Google don’t work so well any more so lets have crap content and dodgy engagement to get into more Facebook streams instead.

    And then what?

    Big data has arguably become one of the best things to happen to marketing – allowing us to be far more analytical, strategic and granular in tailoring our marketing to the right people.

    However, EdgeRank – like SEO before it – has become almost cancerous to marketing by dumbing down some marketers to chase the numbers and rankings instead of customers and conversions.

    Here endeth the rant.

  25. Peter
    17 Jun 13
    10:44 am

  26. Great article Tim. The next big question is why anyone at all responds to these idiotic questions. KFC one as a good example. 300 comments. Seriously?

  27. Billy C
    17 Jun 13
    11:14 am

  28. Is there a measurement for how many people click not to receive any more ads from a company when they do this? Recently a number of my friends have changed their gender to male so they don’t get ads about weight loss all the time.

  29. Annabel
    17 Jun 13
    12:36 pm

  30. @Billy C, yes brands have access to this information. It’s included in Facebook Insights as ‘Negative feedback’ when a post is hidden. Unlikes are also tracked.

  31. Nathan
    17 Jun 13
    1:32 pm

  32. Great piece Tim.

    Edgerank vs wider communication objectives. The irony is companies are trying to get people to see more crap by making it more crap and it goes in a vicious cycle.

    Also part of the problem is badly built communities that aren’t targeted enough in the first place. The communities offer low engagement for content that they should respond to, and therefore all that is left by for the company/agency is to give them click-bate as demonstrated with your examples.

    The worst offenders are actually b2b pages.

  33. Rebecca
    17 Jun 13
    2:23 pm

  34. This provides a useful service, it allows me to weed out the “friends” I have added on FB by removing them from newsfeed, or immediately judging them as imbeciles. Same for “liking” a pic to save a kid’s life or something.

  35. Nacho
    17 Jun 13
    2:31 pm

  36. Bah, most of these marketing departments are just chasing numbers anyway (reach)… the more they offend people, the more viral they go. Then when they come off these, said marketing department can look at their FB stats (which don’t have a category for % totally and utterly offended / bored viewers BTW) and take it to the next marketing meeting and show the upwards trend.

    Facebook will fail, its time is coming, same for reality TV. Real content is dead. The people will vote with their feet when they are done posting pics of their dinner…


  37. Andrew B
    17 Jun 13
    2:35 pm

  38. I’m surprised nobody’s yet said “guilty as charged” in the comments above… the practice is so rife I would be surprised if some of these comments aren’t the pot calling the kettle black….

  39. Scott Rhodie
    17 Jun 13
    2:42 pm

  40. Great piece Tim. I’ve been saying for a long time how sick I am of pages simply pumping out content that is just abysmal, doesn’t tie in with the brand voice and is basically just a chain letter into your timeline.

  41. Steven
    17 Jun 13
    3:38 pm

  42. I wonder about the justification is for all this effort to grow Likes when Facebook can go and move the goal posts whenever it wants, ala “throttling” reach of Pages to drive more paid-for posts. So am I right to say brands are risking brand damage in the quest for new Likes with no assurance that these Likes will even be a cost-effective way to reach potential customers tomorrow?

    That said, I quite liked the toilet paper one.

  43. My experience
    17 Jun 13
    3:51 pm

  44. Really poor marketeers. Facebook is a platform and can deliver great roi (depending on the product / service and industry being promoted).

    For private chat and groups; Whatsapp is awesome.

  45. Glenn
    17 Jun 13
    3:51 pm

  46. Great to see someone call this.

    Expect to see more commentators lamenting the abandonment of fundamentals in pursuit of the social media bandwagon.

    Taking it one step further, preliminary findings of a US study by integrated marcoms guru Don Schultz of the impact of social media on FMCG brands is implying undifferentiated content may actually be damaging brands: http://www.forbes.com/sites/pr.....ng-brands/

  47. CP
    17 Jun 13
    4:14 pm

  48. Bravo!!

  49. Matt
    17 Jun 13
    4:47 pm

  50. Excellent article. Sums up perfectly what was annoying the living sh!t out of me but I couldn’t quite explain why. Now I can direct all those annoying fb friends of mine to this article.

  51. Jason Tame
    17 Jun 13
    5:25 pm

  52. Brillo piece. I didn’t actually know what edgerank was but it continually amazed me to see some of my friends appearing in my news feed answering ridiculous lame-ass questions from what I would consider to be a “brand that should be a little more highbrow than this”!

    I’m off to look for more interesting articles about this monster called Facebook. Laters.

  53. Jason Tame
    17 Jun 13
    5:28 pm

  54. Steven – did you find out which was was correct with the loo paper? Please advise!

  55. Danni Francis
    17 Jun 13
    9:46 pm

  56. Amen.

    Too many social media and digital marketing “experts” are generating the type of bollocks showcased in this article.

    The term “engagement” is elusive – it suggests people care about the brands that they like on Facebook.

    I don’t care about brands, I avoid ads everywhere, including Facebook.

    Marketers need to shift their thinking back to building salience and creating both likeable ads and likeable content for the best chance at cut through.

  57. Jacqui Honeywood
    17 Jun 13
    9:46 pm

  58. Some of those campaigns are beyond ridiculous and screaming for someone with their frontal lobe intact to actually ‘vet’ them prior to posting. That said, I don’t mind the loo paper one, think that’s pretty funny. I think marketers need to be clever in their campaigns but that is only done by assuming your readers are actually a little clever too!

    Asking your readers what their favourite colour is? Really?

    If Facebook didn’t keep messing with the algorithm marketers would quit trying to implement crazy off-topic campaigns to increase engagement and instead be able to focus on more authentic brand-related conversation.

  59. Frang Twango
    17 Jun 13
    10:24 pm

  60. Sounds like the marketers are getting worried about their fee eating “services” no longer being required to reach customers. haha. As if the run of the mill gunk marketing is sooo high brow. Get a grip. If people don’t like a post, they can “unlike”.

  61. Nigel
    17 Jun 13
    11:55 pm

  62. The Engagement Emperor has no clothes.

    Engagement does not equal advocacy.
    Engagement does not equal sales.
    Engagement does not even equal mild preference.

    If your activity is not contributing to a meaningful bottom line, then surely its time to call it off. Or to test it against some other measurable, meaningful activity and then back the winner. If you can’t honestly show that your “engagement” improves the business in some way, then it’s just wasting resources that could be better used elsewhere.

    Otherwise you end up with some of these bad examples that just simply chase meaningless figures because that’s what the system lets you do.

    Aim for meaningful* engagement, with meaningful measurement and meaningful outcomes and you’ll be doing your client/company/customer and self a big favour.

    *Meaningful in terms of those top two outcomes at the top of my comment, as examples.

  63. Dorothy
    18 Jun 13
    7:08 am

  64. I will admit I am guilty of this, but only because the brand manager pushed so hard for like bait content because he had a big bonus tied to certain KPIs.

    The other thing is, when you’re a mass brand speaking to middle-Australia, they respond to this shit. When you look at your demographic profile and the bulk of your fans are in Blacktown (seriously, I worked on a brand and the location data said Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, then Blacktown as our fourth biggest location) you need to dumb it down. You can’t make clever jokes, you can’t post intelligent content. You can try, but your stats will be the proof.

  65. Jason tame
    18 Jun 13
    9:56 am

  66. Who is moderating this? What is wrong with me referring in context to my sexuality ? Please re instate my comment in full or let me know why not!?

  67. mumbrella
    18 Jun 13
    9:59 am

  68. Hi Jason,

    While some people, including gay people, do indeed refer to themselves as “homo” in a non-derogatory way, others use the word with less positive intent. In its context, I made the margin call to take it out, but I fully accept that you were using it within context.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  69. Danny
    18 Jun 13
    10:45 am

  70. Dorothy has hit the nail on the head.

    The posts are targeting the simple minded with simple user tasks.

    There’s absolutely no point in putting FB users through intelligence tests or appealing to any form of intellect – Facebook is not the platform for that kind of interaction. Yes – you can do it but virtually none of your fans will engage with you. Why? Nobody uses FB for mental stimulation – it’s all about digital voyeurism….perving basically.

    ***Social Media people should not be referred to as ‘experts’ either – that has to be the most BS title in the world of media.

  71. Kimota
    18 Jun 13
    11:40 am

  72. Agggghhhh!!! Sorry Dorothy and Danny, but that just proves the point.

    If a marketer believes their marketing has to be so banal, dumbed down and completely disconnected from any kind of strategy or brand relevance to be effective on Facebook, WHY BE ON FACEBOOK?

    That’s just getting obsessed with the tool and forgetting that marketing is about the message.

    Clever marketing doesn’t have to be complex or go over the heads of a target market. Clever marketing is that which connects with the target market – regardless of their perceived IQ level – in a way that actually drives a business goal!

    And EdgeRank in itself is NEVER the business goal.

  73. Lauren
    18 Jun 13
    4:31 pm

  74. I think you owe an apology to the social media team for KFC. They don’t need you public attacking them and calling them idiots. Make your point with your example, not with insults.

  75. Andrew B=
    18 Jun 13
    4:52 pm

  76. Hey Tim… that’s so gay.

  77. Danni Francis
    18 Jun 13
    5:36 pm

  78. Lauren –

    How can you honestly say that someone needs to apologise for merely voicing an opinion on the KFC campaign?

    How do we (as marketers) move forward if we can’t accept skepticism and alternative thinking?

    The biggest of brands (Apples, Coke, etc) certainly are not free of previous public criticism.

    I would accept any feedback (with a bit of tongue in cheek) if it meant I could better my campaigns.

  79. Rudie
    20 Jun 13
    12:40 am

  80. Consumers, escpecially fervent Facebook users, ARE idiots. Companies have shifted to match their customer base. Understandably. I didn’t know about EdgeRank either. Now I think KFC Australia is brilliant =)

  81. Miles
    20 Jun 13
    8:33 am

  82. This is simply the result of a generation lowly educated ‘media & communicAtions’ students who focus on the medium as opposed to the message.

  83. Stav
    21 Jun 13
    2:37 pm

  84. This is a great article and I recently completed an audience research project on interaction with Australian brands on Facebook. Not surprisingly personality traits play an important role in how the audience will respond and interact – brands need to rethink a ‘one size fits all’ approach and start posting content that is more tailored to their audiences’ different needs.

  85. Sam
    22 Jun 13
    8:30 am

  86. You forgot to mention that in FB we don’t need “expert” opinion of marketers as customer response is measurable in real time. Conveniently, your article doesn’t mention how many Likes any of these activities received…. Like all professions being made redundant by digital “change or die”

  87. Edwood
    11 Jul 13
    5:19 pm

  88. This is great! Nice work.