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Sep 30 2010, 8:15 AM ET 1

With 165 million users in the United States spending almost two hours a week perusing pictures and wall posts, Facebook has an audience larger that last year’s record-breaking Super Bowl and more dedicated than many sit-com fan bases. Maybe that’s why some advertisers are starting to think about the site as a kind of 21st century television audience.

Take Nike, for example. The company’s superb “Write the Future” advertisement started as a video on Facebook. “The clip was played and commented on more than 9 million times by Facebook users–and helped Nike double its number of Facebook fans from 1.6 million to 3.1 million over a single weekend,” Brad Stone explains in a fun Bloomberg BusinessWeek cover story.

That kind of viral user-recommended publicity is the Holy Grail for any ad campaign. And it explains why some advertisers think Facebook represents something like next-gen television advertising: a broad, nearly universal and shared media experience.

On TV, however, advertising is comparatively indirect. You advertise through a show. That show has an audience, and you hope those audiences is inclined to like your product. On Facebook, you advertise directly to the audience. What’s more, the audience has already indicated the hundreds of articles and music and books and interests it “likes” already.

The promise of an ad revolution that practically knows its audience — who they are, what they like, even where they are and when — isn’t hard to see. But it’s also easy to envision the backlash. Nobody likes the idea of being sold. But Facebook has nothing to sell but personal information. The biggest ad challenge for the company will be figuring out ways to make its users useful to advertisers without feeling like they’re the ones being used.

 

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