Remember ello? It’s the social network that advertised itself as the indie alternative to Facebook, but was then unmasked as VC funded by XOXO founder Andy Baio. Now they’re back, with more VC money, and their new ad campaign is just as cluelessly disingenuous as their last one.
It’s not really clear what ello is trying to be. Maybe some kind of lifestyle network for hipsters who think they are too cool for social networks? Other than its pared-down retro design, ello is virtually indistinguishable from half-a-dozen other descendants of a hairy, heavy-browed common ancestor known as Friendster. You can send messages, post updates and pictures, make friends, and share your latest music, crafts, or beard moisturizer cream.
What ello does have is style. And a marketing campaign aimed to people who hate marketing, or think of themselves as too smart to fall for the privacy-invading, data-snarfing schemes of other apps. It’s like they read Thomas Frank’s book The Conquest of Cool — all about ad firms working with companies like Volkswagon and Dr. Pepper created the so-called counterculture using marketing campaigns in the 1960s — and learned the very worst lessons from it. Frank’s book is a call-out of how Madison Avenue co-opts our desire to be free of its clutches, by marketing things to us with clever anti-ad campaigns that appeal to our frustrated desire for real dissent.
So yeah, ello is trying to turn your hatred of marketing into a marketing campaign. It’s kind of an old trick in the advertising world, but they are still hoping it will work because this time it has a social media twist!
Mic’s Jack Smith interviewed ello founder Paul Budnitz about the marketing strategy, which will also include an anti-Facebook surveillance campaign — on Facebook. Writes Smith:
Starting Wednesday, Ello is going to start running advertisements on Facebook that tell you what Facebook’s advertisers can learn about you. So if, through Facebook’s data collection, Ello learns that you’re a single person living in New York City, it’ll tell you, “They told us you’re single in NYC.” If you’re a photographer, you’ll see “Photography is better without ads.” ...
Budnitz and the other co-founders insist that what they do is totally different from Facebook, that Ello is a social network to house artists and content and that Facebook is an algorithmic, surveillance-driven ad platform. That’s the reason they want to run the campaign.
Wow, much meta.
Ello’s campaign seems doomed to fail — not because it’s absurdly hypocritical, but because their target market isn’t really that concerned about corporate data mining and targeted ads. Two recent studies from the Pew Research Center show that people between 18 and 29 are far less worried about corporations gathering their private data than other age groups — though they are far more worried about government snooping than their elders. 55% of young adults say they disapprove of the US government gathering private data for the “war on terror,” but 46% felt that corporations gathering private data was a “fair trade” for free services like Facebook.
So if ello really wanted to capture the zeitgeist, they’d do an anti-NSA ad campaign and promise their users freedom from government scrutiny. Instead, they’re going the “privacy theater” route, wheatpasting anti-surveillance chic over their Facebook clone in the hopes of gaining market share with anyone who is naive enough to fall for their tricks.
Photo by Adam Clark Estes