How to Cheat the Facebook Ribbon

If you’re anything like me, as soon as you got your hands on a brand Facebook Page you were pumped about the possible uses for the new Ribbon. Arrows pointing to the picture! Panoramas! Long-form prose! (No..? Just me?) Ribbons that incorporated the profile picture! So when I began crafting a new design for the Maronda Homes profile page, I was blissfully unaware of one very important fact – the ribbon is random. It pulls from photos associated with your brand page (profile and wall) and simply randomly selects five every time someone loads the page.

This of course made the ~2 hours I spent selecting and shopping the perfect image a complete waste.

‘Cut-out’ designs like the one above that have been so popular on personal profiles (pre-timeline, of course) are worthless, in other words. Now, what I’ve seen as far as brands dealing with this hasn’t been wonderfully creative. Most seem resigned to just using a bunch of images of their product or designs and letting those fly and some have used five interchangeable images, but none I’ve seen have incorporated the profile picture. After a little brainstorming, I came up with this:

Using standardized window ‘panes’, the 5 potential ribbon photos always make a ‘house’ (mansion might be a better word) with the profile photo.

Using pictures with matching edges for the ribbon, I created the illusion of a ‘house’ incorporating the profile picture with the ribbon photos. Each ribbon image is sized to 98 x 68 px on the profile. The catch is that if the image you want on the ribbon is larger than that, Facebook creates an 98×68 px image ‘preview’, automatically zooming in on the picture and cutting out parts along the edges even if the aspect ratio is identical. After some trial and error, I found it ‘zooms’ in slightly upwards and inwards – I created a frame around where it cuts off the image and placed my content within there. That way, when a user clicks on one of our ribbon photos, they get treated to a full-sized image as opposed to a ribbon-optimized 98 x 68 image. This really opens up the door (pardon the pun) for brands to incorporate more detail into the ribbon photos! The frame itself is colored identically to the lightbox Facebook uses, so without close inspection you don’t even know it’s there. Here’s the frame I used – just place content in the orange space and it will appear in the ribbon.

In our panes, as you might have noticed already, I placed different styles of windows with standardized edges. In each window is a picture that is related to a piece of Maronda content, and the caption has a trackable link to whatever the related content is. I hope to continue populating the gallery until I have a library of different frames, so everyone gets a different ‘house’ when they load the Maronda page. This also gets extra mileage out of older blog entries that might have  gotten buried, since a users random ribbon panes will incorporate windows linked to older entries.

What if you don’t have a product with a repeatable element like a window frame? I think the best course of action there is to find an aspect of your brand to use instead. For Pigpen Theater Company, we came up with the idea of a ‘nightmare generator’, putting their signature shadow puppetry creatures in the ribbon. Fans of the theater company were encouraged in the profile picture to create a story using their unique ribbon and writing it on their wall.

I’m curious – what would you do with your brand? Let me know in the comments.

Of course, all of this will be for naught whenever Timeline rolls out for brand pages – I’m looking forward to coming up with some cool designs utilizing that.

Zero Hour

Starting a new project today based loosely on a screenplay I came up with a few years ago and never wrote.

‘Zero Hour’ is a story about a diorama of people living in an urban setting in the not-so-distant future. The world has reached the point of galactic “No Return” – the galaxies have speed up to the point at which they’re about to break the speed of light (at least by the time conventional technology could reach them) and so the governments of the world have banded together to prepare a few hundred “Arks” – giant ships that will reach those Galaxies long after the Milky Way has expired.

Spots on the Arks are chosen by lottery, with citizens gambling for more spots getting a greater chance of missing the boat.

The entire story will be relayed through a third party, a modern-day scientist who has stumbled across a feed of the recorded transmissions from the story-lines characters’ between each other. The massive temporal flux created by galaxies breaking the light-speed barrier has caused a tessellation in space-time relaying very small bits of information back to the scientist. Unsure what to do about them, he begins organizing the short bursts and to his delight finds that they all seem to fit nearly perfectly onto Twitter. He creates accounts for the major players and relays the information coming from their everyday recordings to the rest of the world.

The core question I want the story to address is this: what would you do, given that world was going crazy and you had only a few hours left to make a decision. How would you spend that time? Would you seek family – and should they be inaccessible, would you forgo them? Lovers? Drugs? Would you loot and pillage abandoned houses?

I hope to address all of these questions in the story. I plan on beginning by next weekend to introduce the scientist narrator-type character, and then to try and build some story before shopping it around to different websites in hopes of gaining some exposure.  Regardless of the audience I’m excited to try and exercise my writing abilities in a medium like Twitter, which can simultaneously feel enormous and minuscule.

Until then!


Just an idea I had the other day.

STEP 1 – Find your target. For this, I chose just a simple magazine cover.

STEP 2 – Create your code – I made several to make sure I could have a close fit. Cut out your chosen replacement.

STEP 3 – Hit it with a little spray-on adhesive. Alternatively to Steps 1 and 2, you could simply make stickers. I chose to use paper/spray-adhesive because it’s cheaper and slightly thinner.

STEP 4 – Well, yeah, then you pretty much just stick it on your target.

STEP 5 – Test out your hijacked QR code!

General Notes – I used this QR code generator – it let’s you build in 30% error-reading capability, which is useful if you want to maybe remove some blocks and add a personalized tag, or simply because if it’s damaged by wind or weather it’ll still scan.
Further, you can simply code in text messages, not necessarily a link to a website. Might be nice to stick a few to the back of a bus seat and give someone a smile or friendly blurb on their morning commute.

If you’re interested, the image I linked to can be found here.

As far as potential uses, it seems a little iffy. There’s definitely some legal questions about hijacking someone else’s advertisement, particularly if it were applied to a large ad or the hijacked QR linked to content aimed at either subverting the ad or simply shocking the viewer. As far as other marketers using it to steal ads, that also seems like there are some definite ethical and potential legal questions. It might be a useful promotional tool for bands, artists, or others who can motivate fans to do their dirty work.

Additionally, this could be taken a step further by replicating an entire QR placement, including the “Scan here for …” header, and then placing it somewhere that never had a QR code to begin with.

The Rise of Micro

When Napster came out in the late 90s, it gave us a preview of what the digital age was to bring  a massive restructuring of payment systems.  The flagrant copywrite violations that Napster wrought were much touted for the monetary damages they created, with people like the RIAA going on headhunting binges to destroy the ‘evil pirates’ who were robbing these unprotected artists (Interestingly, a 2009 study by Netherlands-based TNO found results that were much to the contrary, even saying that file sharing HELPS the industries that claim to be harmed by it.  The payment and distribution system that record companies had created was no longer going to work, from that moment forward, and that scared them.  But, instead of trying to be at the forefront of this wave of change, record companies stubbornly refused, digging in their heels and only begrudgingly giving into systems like iTunes and Rhapsody. Both of these tech solutions only addressed a small portion of the increasing tech-savvy (read: increasingly able to circumvent payment systems) public.  Its also led to a change in the way we consume content – we download singles, instead of entire albums, and we turn to blogs and websites that reflect our tastes instead of the radio. Our content search has become increasingly targeted.

All of this, I believe, is heading us towards a world where there’s less and less broadcast and more and more narrowcast.  The good news – content you like, when you want it, and with the cost of production plummeting, probably for free or damn close to it.  Limitless content, be it auditory or visual, at your fingertips and perfectly tailored to your tastes, and each 140-character morsel sized to be quickly gobbled up.  However, the potential downsides of this utopia are just as great – without monetary gain as a viable option, many will either give up the dream out of avarice or be unable to support themselves on just their artwork.  Additionally, this system rewards the most popular, not necessarily the most polished. Angry Birds cost $100,000 to make and brings in Rovio, its developer, around $2 million a month. Casual games are making a killing, and they cost next to nothing compared to more serious console and computer titles to create. We’re already seeing this trend in the movies – as money gets tighter and people begin to go other places than the theater for their content, studios are less willing to risk a big budget on an unproven formula. Instead, it’s up to independents, be it musicians, filmmakers, or video game designers, to create the content on their own dime. Thanks to the dramatic drop in costs for production equipment in any of these fields, it’s just now becoming possible.

I think the solution to this deluge of content is two-fold – it is part social, part stalker. Hear me out. Social search is a much-lauded advent of the past year or two that drives search results based on recommendations from friends.  Currently its only manifestations are the Facebook “Like” button, which just successfully turned 1, and Google’s buzzy +1 feature, in addition to a slew of new apps coming to the market designed to share recommendations in social groups. Word of mouth has ALWAYS been the most positive form of advertisement, and is, in my humble opinion, the driving factor behind every advertising campaign, ever. Your friends are about to become the loudest voice in the room. That’s the social component of the deal. The stalker part is a little bit more unsettling, but ultimately, in my opinion, will drive more successful commerce. Currently, there are companies out there that do nothing but monitor your browsing history, your purchasing history, even your Facebook preferences. TechCrunch recently published an article about a company that tracked the purchasing habits of Google and Microsoft employees and made comparisons in their dietary habits. Obviously, privacy is a huge component of this, but not something I’d like to devote too much space to hear and now. The upshot of this, though, is less cluttered advertising. Instead of getting an ad for a weight-loss solution, I might get a coupon for a favorite snack or an ad about type of movie I might be interested in. Ads therefore could become, for the first time ever, not “annoying”.

These two mechanisms combined will filter out content that fits the needs and wants of the consumer they are relevant to. You no longer will have to search for music or movies – the ones you’re going to love will be served up to you, either in a targeted, useful advertisement or on the suggestion of a group of friends. This transitional period of overwhelming content will soon pass and we will enter an age where our content “diet” will be better tailored than ever before. And this time around, who’s the person you get to thank? It’s yourself.


One thing I’ve always questioned about Penn State’s Advertising program is its decision to make PR and Advertising options of the same major.  It seems to me that public relations, although highly capable of selling a product, is so different from Advertising and really should have its own place.  Public relations encompasses everything from marketing to damage control; Advertising is strictly to sell something (be it a mop, membership, or identity).  Why place the two under the same major?

Alec Brownstein

Earlier I tweeted about this guy-  pretty genius move on his part. By taking out $6 worth of Google Adwords, each addressed at senior creative directors of New York ad agencies, he successfully landed himself a career and assured that Ian Reichenthal will only have but to google his own name to find hopeful jobseekers for the rest of his career.

Essentially all he did was make it so that anytime those creative directors googled themselves, (or anyone else who did for that matter) they would have a personalized message at the top of their screen linking them to Alec’s homepage while simultaneously chiding them for googling themselves.

Farmer’s Insurance

Lately I’ve been obsessed with the new Farmer’s Insurance campaign-  you know, the one with this guy.  The jingle at the end is particularly catchy, and their campaign features a ‘farmer’s insurance’ school theme with each ad being a different, humorous lesson.  They also brought in ShadowMachine films to create some animated shorts which they feature on their website (  They animated shorts were actually more informative than the 30 second spots, talking about specific insurance policy points.

The ads don’t have a very strong call to action and it feels like they don’t offer a specific advantage over other companies, excepting maybe hipper advertising.  But the themes and the executions don’t really feel like they mesh- the ads seem to shoot for younger demographics but they address issues that don’t really apply, like boat insurance.  I don’t know anyone close to my age who gets around on his own Ski-doo.

I also dislike the usage of J.K. Simmons – he’s great, and fits the part, but I think it would have been stronger to cast Professor Burke as a unique face, sort of like the Allstate Mayhem commercial, or the Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World. By using Simmons, all I see is Burn After Reading.

The ads are alright, the message could use some redirection, and the Farmer’s website doesn’t tie in with the campaign as well as it could.  But that tagline is so damn catchy!