Facebook is facing its ‘weird’ problem – and has hired a guy from Pepsi to fix it

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The news that Facebook has hired Gary Briggs, a former brand manager of Pepsi, to be its new chief marketing officer may come as a surprise.

Many people thought Facebook already had a chief marketer — Rebecca Van Dyck, who became Facebook’s head of consumer marketing in February 2012. There was also Eric Antonow, VP of product marketing, who led Facebook’s marketing since 2010. Antonow is leaving Facebook, apparently.

Van Dyck oversaw Facebook’s most recent TV campaign, a set of ads for “Facebook Home.” Those ads, by agency Wieden + Kennedy, drew criticism for being excessively weird, trendy, and slightly obnoxious. (One showed a man refusing to put his phone away on a plane while he watched a video about drag queens.)

And that — Facebook’s “weird” marketing problem — may be why Facebook suddenly has a new CMO.

Before “Home” was Facebook’s infamous (and equally weird) “Chairs” ad, an existentialist monolog on how Facebook is akin to furniture.

Facebook appears to have learned that weirdness will only get it so far. On YouTube, the comments on some of its ads have been turned off — never a good sign. The Chairs ad has disappeared altogether.

The Home and Chairs ads seemed geared to hipsters — people with a studied sense of the ironic and multi-layered.

But when your customer base is 1 billion people, operating at an ironic meta level has its drawbacks.

It’s also not obvious why Facebook might need a chief marketing officer. It reaches 1 billion people monthly, and more than 700 million per day most days. If you’re a Facebook user, it’s hard to imagine why Facebook might need more face-time with you.

Facebook’s problem is that it’s entering its cable TV phase: Everybody has it, we use it all the time, but there’s no love for the company that provides it.

Cable TV companies also advertise themselves heavily, even though we enjoy their programming every day. It’s the same problem: They want to be liked, as we as used.

This is where Briggs’ background may come in handy. According to VentureBeat:

Earlier in his career, Gary worked for six years at Pepsi, where he launched Aquafina, Pepsi’s joint venture with Starbucks and was director of Brand Pepsi. He also spent two years at IBM running worldwide brand strategy and was an engagement manager at McKinsey.

(He most recently worked at Motorola for Google.) In other words, Briggs is a guy who knows what moves large numbers of ordinary people, not what moves bearded know-it-alls in “statement” sneakers. By contrast, Van Dyck’s resume includes stints at Apple, Levi’s, Wieden + Kennedy and TBWA/Chiat/Day. That’s a fantastic resume — in the sense that she has worked in only the trendiest corporate environments possible.

Facebook and Pepsi are, in a way, a similar challenge. There isn’t much new you can say to consumers about either product, because consumers already know a lot about them. As a marketer, Briggs must find a way to get people thinking new thoughts about Facebook despite that. It’s not an easy problem to solve.

The good news is, Facebook appears to have finally woken up to the fact that the problem exists and needs tackling.

Disclosure: The author owns Facebook stock.

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