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


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