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How Zuckerberg's wedding reveals Facebook's problem

On visiting the Facebook announcement of its CEO's wedding, I was served ads for insurance and heart attack prevention. Slightly inappropriate?

3 min read
Facebook Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Who could not be moved by the fact that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg finished his bountiful week by getting married?

The churlish might have whined that his fooling his friends into thinking that this was merely a graduation party for his fiancee was not exactly open and connected. Indeed, it surely showed a peculiar yearning for privacy.

However, I wanted to go to his Facebook page and see what his fans had written. Honestly, it was quite dull. Reams and reams of congratulations, with nary an unkind word.

Suddenly, I looked to the right to see that, even on this blissful page, Facebook has chosen to display some advertising.

My mood of rampant joy and giddiness was turned to ashen concern. For, first off, I was invited to "Save With State Farm."

Look, I have car insurance. It's just fine. And the mere concept of insurance melding with a wedding announcement rang a little vacuous.

Clearly the site must have been aware of my sudden pallor. For the next ad was headlined: "Before a Heart Attack."

What? I've come here to bathe in the beauty of perfect love and you want to talk to me about dying?

The copy told me: "These four things happen before a heart attack. How many have already happened to you? Watch this video offer here."

Isn't this, in essence, Facebook's biggest problem? People don't want to see ads there at all. To appease them, Zuckerberg has cleverly forced advertisers to make their ads look as much as possible like Facebook posts.

But the company has done little to show it actually knows or even understands either its users or the context in which it is shoveling ads.

Facebook Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

You might imagine that I was a little unlucky with the ads I was served. I don't use Facebook much, so perhaps this was merely an experiment on the company's part in getting to know me.

So I refreshed the page. State Farm was still proudly there. (Gosh, it must be spending heavily.)

Thankfully, the heart attack ad had gone. It was replaced by the headline: "Constipated for months."

I know I've made a few jokes about Facebook in my time here, but this was getting nasty. However, the copy insisted: "It's a serious medical condition. Find out about a research study."

Yes, sometimes ads in all media seem slightly inappropriate. But here was a page that had already enjoyed more than 750,000 likes, and the machines were shoveling, well, this stuff at me.

If Facebook doesn't find better ways of making money out of ads, it'll have to find better ways of making money out of you.

If ads for heart attacks and constipation on its most important page of celebration are anything to go by, the company has a long, long way to go in order to even begin to make advertising work.

May I wish the happy couple all the wealth, um, happiness in the world. I hope as they log on to Facebook this morning to view all the good wishes, they aren't being served with ads for divorce lawyers, marriage guidance counselors and, um, investment advisers.