An Open Letter To Zuck: Forget Ads, Make Us Pay For Facebook

Posted via Forbes

Dear Mark Zuckerberg,

I know the stock price is way down and you just got married. Look, times are tough. I’ve been there. I was a young newlywed once too. So let me give you $10 to get you through. If things don’t pick up, no problem. Come see me next month and I’ll give you $10 more. Just ‘paying it forward’ as they say.

Let me explain a bit about myself first.

I never, ever wanted my children to be named after me. I don’t want them to go where I went to school. Most importantly, I don’t want them to follow in my professional footsteps. It’s not just that I want them to forge their own unique paths. On the professional front, I’m retracing my footsteps myself. They’ve lead to a cliff. Now I’m walking backward to try to find a way around.

The assumptions I held dear – like ‘good creativity trumps the interruption that is part and parcel of advertising’ – are becoming more and more patently false every day.

Pecked to Death by (Aflac) Ducks

Last week I was awoken by the vibration of my phone on the nightstand. It was 3:12AM. I had received a text. I had won a contest. I had never entered. “Winning.”

Charlie Ergen, former client, former professional gambler, current CEO of satellite giant Dish Network, recently launched a commercial-skipping service. Why? He had to. The jig is up.

“Ultimately, broadcasters and advertisers have to change the way they do business or they run the risk of linear TV becoming obsolete,” he told the Wall Street Journal. The same is true for Radio. Web. Mobile. Outdoor. You name it. I’d mention newspapers but that would just be piling on.

More proof: Pandora is lapping the traditional field on a monthly basis. If it was a fight, they’d stop it. Why? Either zero or very few ads. Ahh, the sounds of silence.

At a minimum, unchecked interruptive advertising is on its last legs. Not some slow growing cancer that folks used to call “old age.” Fast-moving, get-your-affairs-in-order kind of cancer. While it took me around the world, made me life-long friends with many great people, and treated me like gold, I’ll join you in dancing on its grave. Enough is enough.

“The dream is over.” – John Lennon

I remember vividly celebrating and even parroting Alex Bogusky’s proclamation (perhaps apocryphal), “Everything is an advertising opportunity.”

I wanted to believe it because that was my business. I was an ad guy. I wanted to believe there was nothing but blue ocean ahead.

Alas, like the ocean itself, we’ve polluted it to the point where prolonged exposure is dangerous.

Everything is not an advertising opportunity. I half expect to go to Mass Sunday and find the Host has a Nike swoosh and the Consecration sponsored by Dunkin’ Donuts.

Let’s go back to Facebook for a minute. Unlike the haters, I love (the) Facebook. It serves an incredibly useful purpose. It connects. I value few things as I do connections. Sure, some are superficial at best. While I am connected to a girl I revered in the fifth grade, I’d hardly call that connection meaningful. On the other hand, I can keep apprised of the goings on of good friends near and far as we’re all running our separate courses. I can see their kids. I can share playlists like the ’80s never left. It’s useful and I’m grateful for it.

But it’s a failure, right? I mean, it sucks as an ad delivery venue. The little banner ads are lame. The “sponsored posts” by creepy anthropomorphic brands leave me either cold or enraged. (As an aside, I don’t care that “Dallas” is coming back with the remaining “living” cast. What did I do or say to lead Facebook to believe I would?)

Mobile is even worse.

So they’re failures, all those hoodied coders, because they built something that adds value to its users lives but sucks as an ad vehicle. Really? Is that where we are?

I hope not, but think so.

Ask for the (New) Order

Don’t get me wrong. If they want to collect a paycheck, they need a plan to make money. So here is my modest proposal.

Ask.

Go ahead, Zuck. Tell us what you must have known all along. People are gong to have to actually pay for a service or else live through a whoreified, horrifying user experience. We can take it. YouTube announced the other day they’re getting ready to ask for my money too. It’s OK.

Five bucks a month, no problem. Ten? Grudgingly. More than that? I’ll check out Path or any one of the raft of competitors you will be creating. You see, asking people to pay for quality goods in a free marketplace makes even Democrats and Republicans smile. It’s this faux free that is killing us.

There’s plenty of precedents. We pay for HBO. It has no commercials. We pay for apps. Same. I pay for Spotify. Ditto. I want to give you money. Please take it. Don’t compromise your vision or change my experience for Aunt Jemimah or Orville Reddenbocker.

Old Math Still Works

Here’s a little back of the napkin math: there are supposedly 835,525,280 Facebook users globally. Charge us each $10 a month and you get $8,355,252,800 per month! That’s $100,263,033,600 annually. Am I missing something? OK, there are a lot of “light” users in there. Lot’s of them just won’t pay. Period. So cut that in half and you get $50,131,516,800. I’ve never proclaimed to be a math wizard, but this seems pretty straightforward to me.

Everything Old is New Again

What would they do with all that revenue? It would be a little bit like the wayback machine. Monies now poured into catchy copy, peel-backs and jingles would actually be allocated to making products better and servicing them better. People would find out about products through friends and acquaintances, both in-person and virtual. I think Google would have a huge role, obviously, but I think peer-to-peer referrals and recommendations (Foursquare, Yelp…) would increasingly gain traction too. When people want or need something they’ll seek it out from both the ‘God’s Eye’ and peer perspectives.

Will we go through the looking glass and come to miss our ads? God no. But in the event we do, we can toggle the levers a bit. That’s the balance most of us will find. Pay less per month or per content chunk, get a few (more) ads. Poor people or tightwads? Sorry. Release the ad hounds.

For those who can afford to pay, content creators will compete for dollars not unlike in a grand European market. There’s a skinned lamb, beside a rutabaga, next to fresh-roasted almonds and cured olives. I’ve got a fixed budget, so decisions have to be made. I’ll end up buying less, but more purposefully. What I pay for I’ll invariably use, unlike the free stuff that usually ends up in the compost heap. I don’t know about you, but I think we need to move back to the time when we paid for things based on our perceived value of them, not our perceived value to the merchant. What’s been sold to us as “free” isn’t free at all. It comes at an immeasurable cost in terms of time and stress as we struggle to keep our noses above the junk (mail).

That Faustian bargain was no bargain at all as it turns out.