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The 5 All-Time Best Facebook Campaigns

In honor of Facebook’s IPO, we present a special Top 5—a hall of fame of Facebook campaigns (none of which are actual Facebook ads, mind you).

In a dramatic bit of timing, GM announced it was pulling its $10 million in Facebook advertising mere days before the latter company’s IPO.

The high-profile move drew a line under the already pronounced question mark around Facebook’s real value as a paid advertising platform. While some, including Ford, rushed to make the point that proclaiming Facebook ineffective is simply admitting that you’re doing it wrong, the fact is, there has been little to support the notion that paid advertising on Facebook is tied to real, bottom-line results.

What we do know though, is that Facebook has been a transformative creative force in advertising. And the creative story of Facebook hasn’t been told by paid ads. The best campaigns have represented brand spending—but in talent and in development and production, not in Facebook as a media buy. But these projects have been valuable all the same—to the industry and to Facebook—in helping to reorient communications thinking around the consumer.

The most notable, and important, marketing efforts on Facebook have been those that have made the marketing industry understand the nature of social media, how to maximize its strengths, and the essential shift from broadcasting canned brand messages to inviting people to participate in a conversation.

Here (in no particular order), the all-time top five Facebook marketing campaigns.

A&E Parking Wars
Way back in 2007, the game wizards at Area|Code (now a part of Zynga) were given the brief to promote A&E’s show about parking. So the company created a Facebook game about parking. And it killed. Area|Code had already made a name with its Sharkrunners game for the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. That game allowed players to control virtual research boats and crews and collect real-time data on real sharks that were tagged with GPS units and going about their business off the coast of California. Parking Wars players controlled a street and a handful of parking spaces and advanced in the game by parking on friends’ streets and issuing tickets to their "unlawfully" parked cars. Both games were compelling examples of continuous engagement—games that kept players coming back throughout the day. And a remarkable number did— 400,000 players signed on to Parking Wars in two months, with total users growing to over 1.5 million. But Parking Wars was one of the earlier examples of a truly social game that actually involved players’ Facebook friends.

Intel Museum of Me
In 2011, Intel allowed Facebook users to create a shrine to themselves and then (virtually) walk through it. Intel and Japanese agency Projector, Inc., created Museum of Me, a "visual archive of your social life," to (subtly) promote the i5 processor. After users connected through Facebook, the app pulled images, words, location, and other info into a three-minute video walk-through of your own museum, complete with white walls, other patrons, and music. The effect is unnerving and oddly powerful as it makes literal the exhibit you’ve already made of your life.

Take This Lollipop
One of the most interesting Facebook campaigns (and the recipient of several big ad awards recently) is a cautionary tale about Facebook itself. If people thought Intel’s Museum was a touch creepy, they were in for a deliciously upsetting treat with "Take This Lollipop," created by production company Tool and director Jason Zada as a Halloween project (so, not strictly an ad… or is it..?).

The app "dares" users to connect with Facebook and when they do, they’re delivered into the world of a scary-looking loner played with sweaty, rage-filled aplomb by Bill Oberst Jr., who strokes his mouse and generally looks insane while poring over the personal details of your life and then, seemingly, sets off after you. If Intel’s Museum of Me was an artful reinterpretation of your social life, "Lollipop" was the nightmare scenario of your nagging privacy concerns.

Burger King Whopper Sacrifice
Another Facebook classic that directly addressed the nature of Facebook and its meaning in our lives. The 2009 app, created by agency CP+B, allowed users to unceremoniously relieve themselves of "friends" in exchange for a coupon for a Whopper. As one of the creators, Joel Kaplan said of the campaign: "It was when everyone you knew was finally on it and you were becoming friends with all these people and we were talking about the frustrations of that—what does it even mean that I’m friends with someone online?" Which led to the campaign’s merciless core calculus: burger beats buddy. Facebook shut the app down not long after it got rolling but not before 200,000 friends were disappeared.

Ikea Facebook Showroom
In 2009, to promote the opening of a new Ikea store in Malmo, Swedish agency Forsman & Bodenfors created a simple campaign based on one of Facebook’s most crucial, and feared, features—photo tagging. The agency conjured a profile for the manager of the new store, Gordon Gustavsson, and, over a few weeks, proceeded to post 12 images of catalog-worthy showrooms. Facebook fans were able to tag furniture items with their names to win them, and in so doing, they created huge ripples across their social networks. Though critics complained that the effort felt too temporary—a one-off—it was an awards juggernaut and, more important, it was a low-cost, low-tech demonstration of the real power of social networks as a mechanism for participatory, consumer-driven advertising.

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  • Rohit Raina

    'Intel Museum of Me' looks fascinating. Though I doubt if such creative ideas find a large audience. I still find those run-of-the-mill ideas like running a contest on your page more effective. this for example . I had a mini-fan page myself and even though I wasn't giving any prizes, the contest that I ran worked quite fine.

  • @StephSigel

    Wouldn't the last one, the Ikea Facebook Showdown violate Facebook's policy around hosting a contest/competition on their platform and using their tools (like/ comment/ share/ tag) to enter/play? 

  • Jennine

    Ironic how this article got 751 tweets, and only 26 likes. Way to go Facebook. ;)

  • Blade Branding

    The Ikea idea was a genius way for a retailer to have a giveaway. I'm not always a fan of giveaways in social media, but this really showed that it could be done creatively and get everybody talking. 

  • guest

    I thought Small Business Saturday from Amex was pretty cool.  Surprised you didn't mention it.

  • Eva

    Re: Broos 
    That's not correct. First, it wasn't up for half an hour. Second, the campaign didn't break any rules when it was launched. Facebook changed the rules during the campaign, a couple of weeks after the launch.

  • kai

    hmm where is the social memories concept? anyone remember the clean infographics of your facebook profile in a book?

  • Broos

    Duh, The Showroom ran for about half an hour before FB closed it for breaking the rules of publishing on FB. A few weeks was probably planned but no.

  • mkedave

    It's about engagement and awareness. Yet, still some nice proof that earned content can be stronger than paid content. 

  • Krithika Chandrasekaran

    Not sure if the context applies to GM, they seem unconvinced about spending gazillion $$ to employ FB's new advertising offerings: premium/sponsored stories ads that show up in fans' news feeds. Or the promise of Reach Generator that will ensure at least 75% of fans will be reached with page's posts vs. the 10-16% that are organically reached otherwise. 
    I don't believe they will stop Facebook activity or even regular marketplace ads when doing a promotion, GM to me sounds like is unsure of spending extra money in these new ad formats given that they are unable to measure the impact. I don't agree with them about directly tying FB to sales, they need to figure out how engaging fans benefits in terms of sentiment, preference and favorability/recall.

  • Callahan Mcdonough

    The museum of me, cool concept. And there maybe nay sayers but facebook has indeed changed how we relate, and for me importantly connect with folks we already know and some we have yet to met. thanks FB.