How Facebook Deconstructed the Status Update for a Lovely Series of Slow-Motion Ads

Popular spots make their way from your News Feed to TV

Headshot of Tim Nudd

People are on social media so much these days that the actual act of posting about one's life has itself become a big part of life. Recognizing this, Facebook recently found a way to tell stories about its users by dramatizing the act of posting—in an artful series of autoplaying ads that are both heightened yet completely relatable.

The goal of the campaign, which launched in June, was simple: To show how Facebook helps you tell your life stories, great and small, and how friends liking and commenting extends and enhances those stories. The creative approach was straightforward, too: Show slow-motion time-lapses of status updates being composed, posted, liked and commented on—revealing stories that are rich, compelling and eye-catching in the News Feed.

"It's the story behind the post, whether it's people thinking about what they're going to write or who they'll tag—all those elements before what we ultimately see in our feed. We wanted to pay homage to that," said Rebecca Van Dyck, vp of consumer and brand marketing.

A series of 13 ads has been rolling out, one per week, on Facebook over three months (10 have been released so far). The campaign has proven so popular, it extended to TV this past weekend, with the four spots below airing in San Francisco, New York and Chicago.

You can see all the ads on Facebook's video page.

While the creative approach came from the Facebook interface, the original concept did, too.

"The idea was sparked by a conversation around the simple question of 'What's on your mind?' at the top of every News Feed," said Scott Trattner, executive creative director at Facebook's in-house creative agency, The Factory. "The campaign started with a small team: one writer, one art director and an animator. The wider Facebook creative team tossed in notes along the way, but that small crew owned and prototyped three ideas fast. We showed them around Facebook, and then we were off to the races."

The ads tell a variety of stories with users in all sorts of of situations—alone and in groups, at work and on vacation, trying out a new sport or just falling into bed. A few of the videos have been pegged to specific days or times of year (Father's Day, the Fourth of July, the end of summer). Most have been viewed over 20 million times. Facebook placed the videos on the site as it would any ads from a paying client. These spots tend to reach about 70 percent of users in the U.S. market.

"We wanted to express the idea that there are these moments before the post actually happens that are often beautiful," said Trattner. "We were trying to artfully recreate the feeling of what happens before the post is actually made."

Telling stories through dynamic screenshots of people typing things into digital media isn't new. Google has done it for years, notably in the "Parisian Love" Super Bowl spot (which told a love story almost all through screenshots of Google searches) as well as Chrome ads like the famous "Dear Sophie."

The Facebook campaign comes out of that tradition but finds its own style, largely through the slow-motion video and the reveal, one by one, of other elements of the post, like the status update, profile pic, location, likes, comments and so on. The sequence of those reveals ends up telling the story.

"We spent a lot of times crafting these," said Trattner. "We see it as a script unfolding. The tool we have to tell stories in this medium are the words in the posts, and certain pieces of the post help the story along. It's a way, within a very limited palette, to storytell."

Not all the reveals are chronological, either. For example, on some videos, you see the likes before the status update. The videos also take liberties with the interface—in the "Jammies" spot, the woman's profile pic comes to life and shows her grooving along with her family in the video below. All of this helps keep the device from feeling repetitive or predictable.

The music is eclectic and energizing—often enhancing, and sometimes undercutting, the faux-epic feel that slow-motion video can create. Among the best-used tracks here are DJ Khaled's "All I Do Is Win" (on the waterskiing spot) and Sammy Davis Jr.'s "I've Gotta Be Me" (on the photobombing spot).

The casting is strong, too. The spots have a real-people vibe—and in fact, they even include some real people.

"I'm completely seduced by 'I'm a Boss,' " Trattner said when asked which spot is his favorite. "The girl in that was, I think, the production supervisor at the production company. She had such a great personality and vibe that we thought she'd be perfect. She embodied that spirit so well that we ended up casting her."

"Jammies" is Van Dyck's favorite. "I see those kinds of stories in my feed all the time, but it's so much fun to play it out a little more," she said.

The spots are relatable in another interesting way. While viewers may or may not see themselves in particular characters or situations from individual ads, they will feel instant familiarity simply because of the Facebook interface—a shortcut to engagement that makes the design of these ads particularly smart.

In any case, the response from users has seemingly been nothing short of ecstatic, with hundreds of thousands of likes and thousands more comments on each spot. Facebook has been replying to as many comments as it can on each post, sometimes hundreds of them—and in so doing, practicing what it preaches when it comes to extending the stories. (Note to other marketers: This has the fortunate extra effect, by the way, of pushing down any negative comments.)

The ads are playful, fun and well made—another success for a company that struggled with its advertising a few years ago but recently found its footing. Part of the positive reaction to the new work is just down to the craft. But Van Dyck said it's more than that.

"We're thrilled by the response, and we love reading the comments. People really seem to be enjoying it and sharing their own stories along the way as well," she said.

"It's the range of the storytelling, the relatability of the casting, the quality of the production. It's different than what people have seen before. It takes something we all take for granted—that little message that says 'What's on your mind?'—and makes it artful. I think that just captures the imagination of people."


Client: Facebook

Agency: The Factory at Facebook. An internal creative studio.

VP of Brand Marketing: Rebecca Van Dyck

Executive Creative Director: Scott Trattner

Director of Marketing Communications: Jennifer Henry

Creative Director: Kevin Butler, Josh Higgins

Associate Creative Director: Chris Trumbull, Luke Martin

Art Director & Copywriter: Elly Taura, Nick Gelbard

Designer: Jerod Wanner, Evan Nagan

Producer: Namik Hawkins, Sara Mott, Adrian Gunadi

Brand Strategy: Rachel Coady

Brand Marketing Manager: Brandon McGraw

Director: The Mercadantes

Production Company: Park Pictures

Editorial: Spot Welders

Animation: Method Studios, Buck

Music Company: Squeak E Clean

Mix: Formosa

Color: Company3

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.
Publish date: September 1, 2015 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT