“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…” so begins Charles Dickens’ epic novel 'A Tale of Two Cities'. And like its protagonist Charles Darnay, Facebook’s founder CEO Mark Zuckerberg finds himself trapped in the dungeon of negative public opinion.
With one major difference. Whereas Darnay was innocent, Zuckerberg seems to have earned most of his negative image. The recent release of the Facebook Papers, coming on top of recurring allegations of data fudging and unreliable targeting, makes it clear that the public has genuine grievances to air.
To escape from this symbolic dungeon, Zuckerberg has pulled a switcheroo, much like how Darnay was eventually rescued. On October 28, Zuckerberg announced the first major rebrand in Facebook’s history—renaming the parent company Meta. From now on, he said, he will focus all his energy on building the Metaverse, which he sees as the future of the Internet.
For Zuckerberg, and by extension, Facebook, it’s truly the best of times.
First off, this move could save the company. By deftly changing the brand architecture to a House of Brands model, Zuckerberg has effectively compartmentalised Facebook. A House of Brands model consists of a parent brand and several child brands, all independent of each other. If a child brand gets into trouble, the other brands in the family, including the parent brand, remain insulated from the worst of the storm. Zuckerberg hopes that Meta will similarly be insulated from Facebook’s worries. FinTwit [Finance Twitter] even has a name for this model—“The House of Zuck”.
Secondly, this rebranding could save Zuckerberg’s career. Founder CEOs faced with similar problems in the past have had to resign. Think Uber’s Travis Kalanick or Boeing’s Dennis Muilenburg. Mark does not seem to have any intention of following their path. If anything, he seems determined to expand his empire. The move to Meta allows him to retain control without sacrificing anything. This could also rewrite his legacy. If Meta clicks, Zuckerberg will no longer be the awkward nerd whose dating app succeeded beyond his wildest imaginations, but a tech visionary who ushered in an era of social evolution.
Thirdly, metaverse can grow Facebook while simultaneously scripting the future. In early 2021, Facebook researchers uncovered two disturbing facts—its user base was ageing, and it was losing traction quickly with the younger generation.
Faced with this potential loss of ad revenue, Facebook needed to figure out what the youth wanted. And the answer seems to be the metaverse. Roblox, an online game platform company that recently IPO’ed at a valuation of $41 billion, has successfully used metaverse to hook the youth onto its games. It’s clear Facebook wants a piece of the pie. I wouldn’t be surprised if Meta even tries to acquire Roblox soon.
However, it’s also the worst of times for Facebook.
Zuckerberg’s response to criticism arising from the release of the Facebook Papers has clearly shown that Facebook does not intend to make any drastic changes to its underlying business model. And that is problematic.
Over the past decade, Facebook has become ubiquitous in our daily lives, and it is firmly associated with its founder, for better or for worse. As long as Mark Zuckerberg remains at the helm and doesn’t transparently address the problematic business practices of Facebook, no amount of marketing magic is going to stop the guillotine.
Zuckerberg may be looking ‘beyond’ to the Meta (pun intended), but who will fix the present?
The writer is a brand marketing consultant with P&G, previously with Reckitt Benckiser and Swiggy. Views expressed are personal.
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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