Image: Courtesy of Music Philosophy

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A friend of mine lost his job last year, his mother was diagnosed with cancer and he had to fight off foreclosure threats. A very rough year. What did I see on his Facebook page? Motivational quotes, pictures of smiling people on the beach, pictures of home-cooked food. The occasional negative expression “That was a rough day.” with 5 ‘likes’ and 2 supportive comments of his social graph.

We live a 2.0 version of “The Stepford Wives” on Facebook. Everything is so colorful, so friendly, and so motivational. We’re all just friends, ‘liking’ everything we see and busy creating an identity outside of our real lives. Nobody reveals their real self on Facebook. Actually, nobody reveals their real self on Social Networks. We play a part in this theater we call Social Networking.

Have you ever seen anyone posting “Unemployed and looking for a job” on LinkedIn? Of course not, people are becoming consultants or come up with other fancy titles to protect their personal brand. Most people understand how to shield their real self from the outside and control their own brand.

Mark Zuckerberg’s declaration that privacy is dead, is just another sales pitch. Privacy is alive and kicking. It’s being redefined as we speak. Not from Facebook. Each one of us is redefining privacy. We select what to share. We select who to share it with. We define our own brand. And we like brands that bolster our image, give us more personal brand juice. I might watch each episode of “The Bachelor” and tune into “Charlie Rose” once a year. As a 40ish entrepreneur, what will I “Like” to protect my brand image?

The media industry loves to put people into boxes aka segments. Behavioral Targeting 1.0 promised to deliver relevant messages to targeted audiences. I’ve tested these campaigns for years and they never delivered on their promise. Facebook’s Behavioral Targeting 2.0 will fail even more miserably. At least, Behavioral Targeting 1.0 is based on real user behavior, amassing data about sites I visited, trying to find a common denominator (segments) and communicating with them through relevant messages. Facebook believes what people express in their social graph is what people really think, who they really are. And that my friend, is just not true.

As an industry, we have to come to grips that the end of advertising as we know it is near. Human beings are unpredictable. We don’t want to be put into boxes. We don’t want to be targets, segments, boxes. We are individuals. Most of the time, we don’t want to hear from advertisers. However, there are times when I can’t wait to hear from brands.

Imagine this scenario: I want to go to Europe with my wife for a week. London, Paris and Amsterdam. I want to fly non-stop , stay in 3+ star hotels, eat in one of the 50 best restaurants in the world, celebrate my wedding anniversary with a special evening and my budget is $5,000 for two. Currently, it will take me at least 20 hours to gather all the necessary information through branded sites, review sites and connection with my Social Graph. What do you think is more effective?

Scenario A: The first thing I decide on is a flight. I go to Bing, check out individual airlines (KLM, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways). I decide to go with Virgin Atlantic. Because I visited KLM and BA but didn’t convert, both brands will continue to message me even though my flight is booked and I’m not interested in any offers anymore.

Scenario B: I send out a personal RFP to the world, expressing my specific intent to travel to Europe, including all details mentioned above. Nobody has to guess if I’m still in-market for European flights and accommodation. They don’t have to target me with sneaky tactics or amass data to improve their guessing work. All brands have to do is to develop customized proposals that deliver on my parameters.

Another example: Many think the future of location-based advertising is conquest advertising. I check into a bar and the competition sends me an offer trying to lure me to their establishment. How about I declare my intent to brands (“Lunch for two in 15 minutes”) and for the next 15 minutes restaurants can send me offers? More powerful? Absolutely.

A growing concern with privacy and data protection will speed up the development of tools that will allow people to engage brands on their terms. The targeting guesswork will disappear and advertising will retreat from its brute tactics of the last decades and return to its roots: Being charming, being entertaining, persuading people into changing their behavior.

Update: Great comment by Jim McCarthy. Social