Tech Companies Try, And Fail, To Inspire With Recent Commercials

These days you can’t fully understand consumer Internet technology unless you watch TV. From entreaties to Like brands on Facebook or use hashtags interspersed between segments on your local news shows to the use of stuff like Instagram in commercials for things like Doritos Locos tacos, television is going out of its way to tie itself back to the social Internet.

And in kind, consumer Internet companies like Square and Google have woken up and are increasingly trying to brand themselves through traditional (video) commercial advertising.

While TV advertising for startups has been the rage since even before Apple’s iconic 1984 “Brave New World” Super Bowl ad, in the age of social media it seems as though each subsequent startup ad is going out of its way to toy with our emotions — and doing so clumsily.

The faux emotion attached to an Internet service, without getting into what the service actually does, has become somewhat of a trope as everyone sort of blindly and clumsily follows Apple’s lead, and misses.

Most recent case in point: A bizarrely abstract ad campaign celebrating Facebook’s billionth user, directed by Amores Perros‘ Alejandro Iñárritu nonetheless. The Wieden & Kennedy campaign likens Facebook to a chair, and a doorbell and an airplane and a bridge.

The ad’s release (which as far as I know has yet to appear on actual TV) was met with much valid criticism. Because if you’re going to try to emotionally charge an inanimate object, the worst thing you can do is compare it to another inanimate object.

Lance Ulanoff wrote, “Facebook is not a chair, or a doorbell or a dancefloor. It’s the first truly global social network, a vast conversation that involves one-seventh of the world’s population. Facebook’s goal is not to make [itself] mysterious, but more accessible and inviting for the remaining 6 billion people.”

So why is Facebook trying to equate itself to a chair? Well it’s likely an attempt at manufacturing nostalgia. Fictional advertising executive Don Draper described advertising’s most powerful tool as such: “It’s delicate. But potent … In Greek, Nostalgia literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.”

Everything in moderation. When commercials dig too deep into that wound, it ceases to hurt and just seems absurd. And it kicks you out of the experience.

The most egregious offender is Google’s most recent commercial for Chrome, which probably wins the award for most obvious puller of heartstrings since “Bambi.” I know people who’ve had to hold back the tears while viewing that Chrome commercial — which portrays a father and daughter using Google+ and Chrome to communicate and bond after the implied death of their mother/wife.

I mean who uses Google+?

It is a hard row to hoe to imbue something as functional as a browser or a social networking platform with any sort of feeling. But in advertising any but the most carefully orchestrated manipulation falls flat, especially in the case of tech companies with business models that more often than not involve profiting off of your personal data.

“Over the top, or just right?” Adweek’s Tim Nudd asked when the Chrome ad came out.

Well, who, other than Marc Andreessen or MG Siegler or the folks at Firefox, feels that emotional about a browser? Like in the case of the Facebook ad, it leaves viewers sort of stunned. I mean why make humans face their own mortality and the human condition while trying to push a software application. No, seriously, why?

Oh because you’re trying to further reach a mainstream audience after saturating the early and middle adopters? Well then, you might want to slightly refine your strategy: perhaps highlight actual user behavior instead of some bathetic metaphor of such, or worse random furniture. Facebook is not a chair. And, against all odds, people actually love Instagramming those Doritos tacos.