Facebook Isn’t Really Like Chairs

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 4 2012 1:21 PM

Facebook’s Disingenuous New Ad

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A still from Facebook's first TV ad, "The Things That Connect Us"

Over at Future Tense, Will Oremus shares Facebook’s first-ever TV commercial, a 90-second spot directed by acclaimed Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros, Babel, et al) and scored with music by the great Explosions in the Sky (a band you might have heard on Friday Night Lights). It was created to celebrate Facebook hitting 1 billion users. And it was put in service of a nearly inscrutable branding message:

David Haglund David Haglund

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.

Facebook is like chairs.

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What? It’s a puzzling declaration, and clearly the heart of the ad. If you went to Facebook’s login page today, you may have seen the image at the top of this post, which is the opening shot of the commercial. Why a chair? Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg says it is one of the “things people have always made to bring us together: Chairs, doorbells, airplanes, bridges, games.” But this is nonsense. Bridges bring us together, yes. So do doorbells: They’re what you ring on someone’s house to let them know you’re there. Airplanes take us from one place to another, and thus connect people who live in one area to those who live in another. And many games require multiple players.

But chairs? Even the savvy folks at Business Insider are confused. “In search of deeper meaning to the chair analogy,” they “transcribed the 90-second spot,” and “came out even more puzzled.” Chairs, after all, do not really connect us, for the most part. We usually sit in them alone. If you’re like me—or, I’m guessing, millions of other office workers—you may associate chairs primarily with work.

So, again, why make chairs the ad’s central image?

Because they’re furniture. Facebook executives wants you to think of their company—which is, of course, just an immensely successful social networking website, and not the first—as something utterly basic and necessary to your life, something you take for granted, and, crucially, use to do other things (like work, for instance). The various other analogies—bridges and games and so on, even, somewhat troublingly, “a great nation”—amplify and add to the Facebook brand, but the underlying message: Facebook is the furniture of your life.

Which is fine, of course, as a promotional campaign. But let’s not pretend it’s all about “connection,” or “what makes us human” (another Zuckerberg line). The ad is called “The Things That Connect Us,” and it ends on these implausibly grandiose lines: “The universe, it is fast and dark and makes us wonder if we are alone. So maybe the reason we make all of these things is to remind ourselves that we are not.”

Maybe that’s why Adam Sackler makes chairs, but it’s not the reason most of us sit on them. And it’s not the real reason they’re the chief symbol in this advertisement. They occupy that important position so that Facebook can convince you its service is not a new thing that just arrived a few years ago and might be supplanted a few years from now and might even do some things you don’t like. No. Facebook, the ad implies, is fundamental, and unassuming, and simply a part of everyday life. Like a chair.

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