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Edition 1 · BS or Brilliant: Facebook's Dictatorial Debut

Updated: Nov 24, 2021

7 min reading time

Welcome to the first edition of Bullshit or Brilliant™! Monthly commentary from Cut the Crap that stands against the marketing hype machine.

What the hell is that? The premise is simple. Each month, we look back and thoughtfully pluck two things: One that we thought was bullshit, and one that we thought was brilliant. It may be something that happened that month, or a different era altogether.

In an industry horny for shiny and new, we surface the meaningful over the trendy. We chose once a month because there's too much thoughtless crap on the internet.

Each month, subscribers (sign up here) receive: 🧠 BS or Brilliant

💡5 things that caught our attn

💗Info from industry changemakers

✨Up-and-coming talent spotlight


TL;DR: Australia’s government raged against the big tech machine. Puppeteered by media mogul and international supermodel Rupert Murdoch, they penned ‘the news media bargaining code’ - an attempt to require tech companies like Facebook and Google to pay when news links appear in their platforms and products.

Facebook’s reaction? Ban all Australian news sharing. You know what's great about that? It's the kind of blanket ban one might expect from, say, the CCP.

The social giant has since softened its position. It’ll reinstate news in exchange for some major concessions. Namely, Facebook can pick and choose which publishers it supports, and they’ll be able to strike deals without the fear of forced arbitration.

This issue’s an onion. Embroiled inside it are big questions. What’s Facebook’s involvement in the public sphere? Should sovereign nations intervene in the business of big tech? What does this mean for Facebook’s brand? Would we be better off with a news-less Facebook?

For brevity, we’ll focus on the impact to Facebook’s brand. Here’s why we think Facebook’s retaliation is BS.

Aus government to Facebook...

From a media relations perspective, the move exacerbates an already troubled relationship. Facebook subtly declared WWIII. And it’s big tech v big media. Here’s what Facebook’s VP of Global News Partnerships said:

“We’ll continue to invest in news globally, and resist efforts by media conglomerates to advance regulatory frameworks that do not take account of the true value exchange between publishers and platforms like Facebook”

Cue Goliath v Goliath. Zuck’s ready to take on Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and other major outlets

Facebook’s key problem here? Likeability.

Facebook is the face journalists and regulators increasingly want to punch. And that’s not to mention Zuckerberg … The budding dictator seems determined to position himself as an indelible crap-stain on the underwear of democracy.

In a burgeoning anti big tech climate, can Facebook weather a cannonade of criticism?

Our take: Facebook’s brash move accelerates the decline of its brand, and hurries along the incoming antitrust extravaganza.

On the consumer side, users were already leery of Facebook’s impact. A 2018 CB insights poll asked "In ten years, which company will we say was a net negative for society?" Guess who came out on top?

Despite the company’s coterie of PR pros, the poorly executed, temporary blackout has us thinking Facebook underperforms when it comes to managing its image.

So what can brands learn about reputation management from this fiasco? Behold our 4 crap-cutting rules:

Rule #1 - Protect the brand before shit hits the fan. A crisis-shielding force field is built long before chaos comes. This is prime time for strong brands to cash in their good will. A likable brand translates to a more forgiving public. But for brands with perception problems, crises can cue a feeding frenzy.

Rule #2 - Congruence and consistency. Align what you say and do! Facebook is a hypocrisy prodigy. In December 2020, Zuck & Co took out a full page NYT spread, assuring us they were ‘standing up for small businesses everywhere’. In Feb 2021, the abrupt ban could have shut down many small blogs, journals and other small businesses, revealing Facebook’s stupid print spread as the hollow claptrap it was.

Rule #3 - Preparation is key. Despite extended negotiations, Facebook was unprepared to implement a coherent blackout. The ban captured charities, government services, and emergency organizations.

Rule #4 - Overcommunicate. Make transparency your mantra. Most Australians didn't (and still don't) know what the shit is going on. Aussies woke up with many of their favorite pages ousted from their feeds. Sudden, opaque and knee-jerk reactions aren't your friends in chaotic times.

Despite a brand in disarray, Facebook’s revenues are resilient as your average cockroach. Why? Marketers can’t seem to get their lips off the crack pipe of attribution. But one wonders whether there’s a tipping point where brands opt out for fear of being tainted by association.

Over to you, brilliant reader with gorgeous eyes. Will Facebook’s contentious move negatively impact its brand? Or did they make the right move? We'd love to hear your thoughts. ____________________________________________________________________________________


TL;DR: Reside under a rock? Bumble IPO’d last week, making CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd the youngest self-made female billionaire in the history of ever. Bumble consistently ‘kills the marketing game’. The brand bursts with lessons on disciplined brand building.

Here’s a look at a few of the moves that earned them Brand Genius status:

MULTI-CHANNEL BRILLIANCE: Bumble knows success isn’t built on a single channel. The brand consistently executes cleverly across many channels. They were part of a pioneering crop of consumer tech brands to take an interest in OOH. The #FindThemOnBumble campaign featured 112 eligible bachelors and bachelorettes.

The campaign also featured an accompanying short form docuseries. Not long after, Bumble launched their first Superbowl spot featuring Serena Williams.

Lesson #1 - No channel walks alone. Ad recall, reach and effectiveness go up when campaigns appear across multiple channels thanks to the media multiplier effect.

Lesson #2 - Traditional media is the Grey Goose to digital media’s moonshine. When online ads are plagued by ad fraud, clutter, and misinformation, traditional channels provide a luxe bedrock of credibility. For further reading on how the impact of digital is often overstated, read Sinan Aral’s excellent “What digital advertising gets wrong”.

DEFENSIBLE POSITIONING: Bumble inverted dating norms with its ‘women make the first move’ product. This female-first positioning helps it stand apart in a cutthroat dating landscape.

The company occupies a prime position in the #metoo era. Billing themselves a women-founded business, who provide a safer, more enjoyable way for women to date. They walk the walk in both their actions and comms.

FACT: Bumble is home to a female-dominated board, and even pioneered the formation of a new law, making non-consensual dick pics illegal in Texas.

Lesson #3 - There’s power in difference. Understand your brand, understand where your competitors fall short. In response to a Tinder lawsuit, Bumble took out a feisty full-page NYT ad stating “We swipe left on your attempted scare tactics .. we - a woman -founded, women-led company - aren’t scared of aggressive corporate culture”.

Up for debate: Do Bumble actually provide a safer way for women to date? Or are they masters of female marketing? Give us those two cents!

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