ABOUT a week ago, a new spoof arrived on Facebook — the Condescending Corporate Brand Page.
It’s a send-up of the crass way companies try to get people to click on "like" and "share" on social networking sites by using cheesy pictures and moronic text. On its wall are cute animals and grinning multicultural employees, as well as a picture of three slices of toast. Against the latter it says: "Who likes Toast? click ‘like’ on this post if you really like Toast to eat!"
The inanity of this is quite funny. The trouble is, it’s nothing as funny or as inane as the real thing.
Take Burt’s Bees, a company that sells coconut stuff for putting on your feet. Its Facebook page is "liked" by 1.2-million people and generally held up as a great example of how to engage with consumers online. One of its latest pictures shows a china cow painted yellow and black with a beehive on its head. Next to the picture it says: "It’s Good News Friday and today good news says "mooooo"?… Give us a like if you love our cow!" This cutesy picture has gone down a storm. "Awesome!" and "Pretty creative!" people commented, as they scrambled for the like button.
Target, the US retailer, is doing even better than Burt’s Bees in the Facebook popularity contest and has persuaded 19-million people to attest to "liking" its page. It has just posted a photo of a birthday cake with 50 candles on it and explained: "This year we turn 50 and fabulous! Instead of birthday spankings, how about we go with birthday ‘likes’?"
To this shameless, embarrassing and utterly pointless plea, 69,000 people — only about 10,000 less than fit into London’s Olympic Stadium — clicked "like".
Some of the pictures on corporate pages are not merely embarrassing, they are dangerous. Ragnar Relay, which organises races, has posted a cute photo of a dog running with tongue out and ears flapping. "Live like someone left the gate open," says the caption. Fans of the page roared their approval.
But this picture is not only cheesy, it’s lethal. When I was a child, someone did leave the gate open and our dog didn’t get to live at all. It died — under the wheels of a lorry.
My second quibble with the Condescending Corporate Brand Page is that it has got the butt of the joke wrong. The joke shouldn’t be on the stupidity of the companies that post this stuff but on the even more stupid people who, far from feeling embarrassed and patronised, voice their approval in their millions.
I simply don’t understand why they do this — unless, of course, they are getting paid. I can just about grasp why a 13-year-old girl might click "like" on her friend’s pouting Facebook pictures in the expectation that the friend will return the favour. But why anyone would go on the Subway page and then give a thumbs-up to a Photoshopped image of a ham sandwich is beyond me.
But then maybe it is because I’m British. As a nation, we still haven’t quite got the swing of "liking" corporate stuff — which makes me even more proud of my country than the fact that we seem to have made a success out of the Olympic Games. So when the Yorkshire-based bank, First Direct, posted on its wall a naff picture of its call-centre guys in brightly coloured tutus and posing with a ballerina, guess how many people "liked" it? A pathetic 27.
Not all companies feel the need to compete in this grim popularity contest. Indeed, some seem to be doing the reverse, behaving as if they were trying to make themselves as unappealing as possible to the dim, over-appreciative online masses.
Take McKinsey. Instead of posting pictures of cute animals on its wall, it has gone for complex graphs instead. One plots "value potential" against "ease of capture value potential" — which strikes me as the social networking equivalent of pepper spray in terms of building popularity. Yet 35,000 brave souls were not deterred. They boldly pressed "like" anyway.
But the winner of the unpopularity contest on Facebook goes to Goldman Sachs. The investment bank is so very superior that it has declined to try at all. There is only one image on its wall, and that’s its logo. Otherwise, there is a sentence saying it’s an investment bank, and a map telling you where Wall Street is. But the site is still "liked" by 16,295 people, which seems an awful lot. I’ve just clicked on this number (as Facebook software allows you to do) and have found most of them live in Bhubaneswar in India, which I understand even less than I understand any of the rest of it.
© 2012 The Financial Times Limited