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September 9, 2010
Why Can’t We Be Friends?

In the olden days, pre-Internet, a brand (i.e., multinational corporation) wanted you to buy its goods and services. To encourage you to do so, it advertised. It tried many things to get you on its good side: humor, jingles, promises of savings and social acceptance, even sex (well, the allure of it, not the actual deed, as far as I know). In today’s world of social media, brands can skip the whole advertising process and flat out ask you to be friends. Connect with me. Hang with me. Look, here’s a list of really swell people you already may know. If not, let me introduce you. Brands that acted as entertainer now act as social director, checking in on everyone at the party to make sure we’re all having a good time. Having fun? Here, have some more punch and cookies.

It’s not enough just to buy something anymore. We now are encouraged to become Facebook friends with it. Or earn badges and “check in” with it on Foursquare. Or happily accept e-mails and texts about amazing offers only a brand can offer. From a brand perspective, it’s a marketing jackpot. Its “friends list” is a juicy consumer database chock-full of information to be shared, studied, and marketed to. I bet friends of Bisquick get loads of e-mails on pancake, waffle, and biscuit preparation; coupon offers; and invites to local pancake tastings (if there are such things). It’s what they signed up for -- I think.

From a consumer perspective, friending a brand can go from downright useful to downright creepy. Starbucks, for example, lets its “friends” know when the latest coffee drinks are available and when you can get free cups of coffee. As a retail destination, Starbucks has what many brands don’t -- human interaction. No, you may not “friend” the actual barista or even learn his or her name, but you may “friend” the Starbucks brand. If you walk into a Starbucks everyday, why not friend it?

Then there are brands that have no human interaction. For example, Nutella. Nothing against Nutella. I like Nutella. Do I have to be its friend? Do I really want the owners of Nutella (Ferrero USA) knowing that I’m someone who will “engage” with a hazelnut spread? Do they really think I think about Nutella beyond the occasional thought that I’m out of Nutella? I don’t think anyone from Nutella’s marketing department will ever knock on my door with a bouquet in hand. I hope they’d be happy knowing I buy it every so often and just leave it at that. That’s what I think people want from the majority of brands: They’ll buy a product, maybe glance at its website, and call it a night.

As the saying goes, “you can never have too many friends.” However, I don’t think the person who said this would have had any idea that one day “friends” would include jars of processed food and the corporations that produce them.

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Brad Mislow is a New York-based ACD in both traditional and digital media. He has worked on Citibank, Toyota, AT&T, Mercedes-Benz, the U.S. Army, American Express, Hershey Foods, Unilever, DHL, Kraft Foods, Kodak, Amtrak, Miller Lite, and Post Cereals. For a look at his work and more articles like this one, go to bradmislow.com.

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