Facebook's TV ads are still young, experimental, and a bit strange. But not for long: the site is launching an old-school product-placement campaign to buy its way onto your favorite television show. Or at least VH1's "Best Week Ever." We got our hands on internal emails and draft scripts showing how Zuckerberg intends to surreptitiously infiltrate your living room through sketch comedy.
According to documents leaked to us from TV super-conglomerate Viacom, Facebook approached the network to create what's called "integrated marketing" comedy segments for the televised blog "Best Week Ever," wherein the show's regular cast reference Facebook products in the course of a scripted scene. We first learned of the scripts in March—at which point Facebook denied using product placement—but the campaign is expected to air in the near future.
As you can see, the format is still rough, and several versions of each joke are being considered for VH1's comedians. But the gist is that on-air talent will talk to each other about, say, the Facebook Phone, in a way that's overt and "positive" enough to make you think about Facebook but funny enough to seem genuine. Or at least not obviously advertorial. Good luck.
"The only direction we've gotten with this is [Facebook wants] the sketch to incorporate functions of Facebook in a non-shitty way," a Viacom staffer told me. "We have to do this crap constantly." Another recent VH1 "integrated marketing" bit for the Hollywood dud Movie 43 was less than subtle: "We had cast members pretend to come out of a theater super happy about the fact that they saw it." Paid placement is nothing new in the advertising sphere, but paying for self-deprecation is wildly out of character for Facebook, which always keeps a PR chokehold on its positive image. As you can see here (you can read the full documents below), Facebook has commissioned VH1 to write dialogue poking fun at Facebook before hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of viewers. That's unprecedented.
It's unclear to what extent these segments will be acknowledged as paid advertising—if at all. I've heard both: VH1's Facebook placement might be accompanied with a Brought to you by-style graphic, or might just be passed off as a genuine comedy sketch.
If the latter approach is chosen, it might raise some eyebrows, because the lines aren't funny. It's clear that these writers want to be doing anything other than shilling for Facebook. When comics who are accustomed to riffing on Rihanna's thong have to shift gears into marketing mode, it doesn't quite jibe.
Facebook has never done anything like this because it's never had to—but it's also never had a lackluster product like the Facebook Phone, or had to fight back hand-wringing that the social network is losing its youthful luster. The Kids are more likely to be watching VH1 than some auteur promotional video about Android software, sure. But you needn't be an advertising veteran to doubt whether a Kimmy Kardashian ass joke is going to be a marketing panacea.
[Image by Jim Cooke]