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Facebook ad turns user into a personal lubricant pitchman

February 27, 2012|By Jessica Guynn
  • Nick Bergus says the humorous intent behind a status update about Amazon.com selling a 55-gallon drum of personal lubricant didn't translate to a Facebook ad that began appearing in his friends' News Feeds.
Nick Bergus says the humorous intent behind a status update about Amazon.com… (Nick Bergus )

Will Facebook ads supply our friends with too much information?

Consider the case of Nick Bergus, a writer, multimedia producer and instructor from Iowa City, Iowa, who can now add another line to his resume: personal lubricant pitchman.

It all started when he favorited a tweet on Stellar (a service that aggregates “favorites” on social networks) that linked to a 55-gallon drum of Passion Natural water-based lubricant being sold on Amazon.com for $1,495. (For interested buyers, that's 46% off the list price for the kind of supply better suited to Mark Wahlberg’s character in “Boogie Nights” than mere mortals).

Bergus saw the humor right away, and noted that while it was not eligible for Amazon Prime, shipping was a “reasonable” $20.95.

So he posted it on Facebook:  “A 55-gallon drum of lube on Amazon. For Valentine’s Day. And every day. For the rest of your life.”

Fast forward a week. Friends began reporting that the humorous Facebook post had taken on a whole new life and was showing up in their News Feed as a “sponsored story,” a new form of Facebook advertising that can turn anyone who “likes” or posts about a product or service on Facebook into an instant pitchman or woman.

“A fellow roller derby referee. A former employee of a magazine I still write for. My co-worker’s wife. They’re not seeing just once, but regularly. Said one friend: ‘It has shown up as one on mine every single time I log in,’ ” Bergus wrote in a blog post.

His takeaway: “I’m partially amused that Amazon is paying for this, but I’m also sorta annoyed. Of course Facebook is happily selling me out to advertisers. That’s its business. That’s what you sign up for when make an account. But in the context of a sponsored story, some of the context in which it was a joke is lost, and I’ve started to wonder how many people now see me as the pitchman for a 55-gallon drum of lube.”

As Jason Kottke succinctly puts it: “Get used to this ... promoted word of mouth is how a lot of advertising will work in the future.”

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