Facebook hit an open wound with Philly sidewalk ads, industry expert says

Facebook ads for the tech giant's new dating app appeared on Philly sidewalks this week. (Courtesy of Conrad Benner/Twitter)

Facebook ads for the tech giant's new dating app appeared on Philly sidewalks this week. (Courtesy of Conrad Benner/Twitter)

Illegal sidewalk ads for Facebook were a brand fail, said one local advertising industry veteran.

“This looks so amateurish and schlocky that I can’t imagine it came from Facebook,” said Joe Glennon, an advertising professor at Temple University. “And if it did, I can’t imagine whoever is responsible has a job next week.”

Glennon joined Temple after decades as a copywriter and creative director working with brands like Adidas, Benjamin Moore Paints, Coca-Cola, Fidelity Investments and Microsoft. 

He said the social media giant may have succeeded in introducing Philly to its new dating product but the chemistry was off. 

“They’re going to have to dig themselves out of a hole,” Glennon said.

The company, owned by Mark Zuckerberg, a college dropout turned internet overlord, could not be reached for comment. And there’s no record of the company or anyone representing its interests seeking permission to use the sidewalk as a billboard, said city spokesperson Kelly Cofrancisco. 

The city doesn’t know who put them up but officials want the $140 billion company to do cleanup. Wednesday evening, Cofrancisco said the city was sending a letter to the company telling officials they had 24 hours to rid the city of the illegal signs.

“If Facebook does not remove the signs, the Streets Department will remove them and charge a fee for removal,” she said in an email.

By Thursday, many had vanished.

The signs arrived at a rough moment for right of ways. Less than a month ago, four Philadelphians with disabilities and three advocacy groups sued the city in federal court over the poor conditions of the sidewalks. The case alleges that the city is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and a 1977 law requiring streets to be accessible for all. 

“Philadelphia’s failure to create and maintain accessible paths of travel has made it difficult — and, at times, impossible — for me to go to work, school, and church, and has prevented me from being able to fully experience life in Philadelphia with my family,” Liam Dougherty, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

The city received 3,100 complaints about sidewalks last year alone. 

More than half resulted in repair notices being issued. But the city doesn’t track repairs or have any way to enforce the notices. 

Facebook’s ads added insult to injury for some pedestrians. 

Conrad Benner, a popular street art blogger blasted the adverts online.

Local recording artist Johnny Petunia posted videos of himself online calling out the company and removing the ads. They were not hard to rip off the sidewalk. 

Glennon said advertising is supposed to be an exchange. The company trades value for the potential consumer’s attention. But the sparse design of the ads and their lazy application seems to be more of an annoyance than a worthwhile ad. Not good when the company they’re advertising for is under scrutiny for data and privacy issues. 

“Wherever this is generated from, it’s hard to believe that they sincerely really thought it would be successful,” Glennon said. “A brand that’s beloved by the public can get away with something like this a lot more than Facebook right now.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.