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Facebook’s Prohibited Ad Types and Tactics — and Why It’s Worth the Challenge to Overcome Them

As the scrutiny over its platform has grown, Facebook has continually gotten pickier with the advertising it will allow. At The Brandon Agency, we have run into many instances over the years where Facebook would not accept our client’s paid advertising — and no, it wasn’t because we had too much text in a picture. It was solely based on product.

Amazon, Google, Facebook and Instagram all have rules and regulations in place to help ensure consumers are experiencing their platforms as intended and have a safe space to build a community, shop, research and connect. Each one has a different set of rules and regulations. And while some are surprising and others not so much, all exhibit the platforms’ strong interest in guiding consumers’ digital experiences.

Facebook has the longest list of prohibited content, and the social media giant sees this as a way to uphold “Community Standards.” In fact, Community Standards is the highest gauge used to judge the platform’s content. However, Facebook is very quick to point out that these standards are evolving over time, and its top priority is to promote diverse viewpoints — even if some of them are widely considered objectionable. It’s a broad standard that, when challenged, Facebook does review on a case-by-case basis, but with the public interest and welfare at the helm of the decision.

While most of the things on this list of Facebook’s prohibited products make total sense, some might leave you scratching your head:

  • Illegal, prescription or recreational drugs
  • Tobacco products and related paraphernalia
  • Unsafe supplements — anabolic steroids, ephedra, human growth hormones
  • Weapons, ammunition or explosives — firearms and parts, paintball guns, pepper spray, fireworks and knives
  • Animals — live animals; livestock; any part, pelt or skin from an animal, including fur
  • Adult products or services — exclusions include family planning and contraception, but features must be on the contraceptive features, not pleasure
  • Alcohol — and kits for making alcohol
  • Healthcare products — including first-aid kits, contact lenses, smoking-cessation products and the ever-famous before and after photos
  • Real-money gambling services
  • Fraudulent, misleading, deceptive or offensive advertising — get-rich-quick schemes, before and after weight-loss photos
  • Products with overtly sexualized positioning
  • Subscriptions or digital products — yes, even Netflix and Spotify are blocked
  • Digital media and electronic devices that facilitate streaming digital content in an unauthorized way
  • Real, virtual or fake currency — digital or cryptocurrency, prepaid credit or debit cards, replica or prop money, active bank credit or debit cards
  • Posts with no commercial intent — posts may not promote news, humor or other content that has no intention to encourage the buying or selling of products or services, such as memes, news and jokes
  • Third-party infringement
  • Discrimination

In addition to its parent company’s rules and restrictions, Instagram takes it one step further by not allowing services on Instagram Shopping, whether they be those of a painter, veterinarian, doctor or nail technician. The site also prohibits the sale of medical supplies, automobiles and fuels, and dangerous machinery.

It’s interesting to see how each rule applies to individual products. If you sell culinary knives, for example, but your website also sells hunting knives, the sites won’t allow advertising, even if you are only promoting the culinary line. We’ve been down this road several times — even to the extent of asking whether, if we create an alternate website just for culinary products or branded apparel, if the sites would allow the advertising. The answer was that the advertising would be allowed only if the new site is completely separate, with no links to the original site showing the hunting knives.

It goes even further. If you have an ad that shows too much detail promoting a hunting product, meaning apparel, gear, etc., even when no guns or knives are shown, then it’s tagged for weapons.

The newest rule — and kind of my favorite because it’s so ridiculous: We cannot ask questions in our ads that engage users by asserting or implying their personal attributes. For instance, a financial institution can’t ask a question like, “Need some extra cash around the holidays?” — because Facebook sees this as identifying the consumer as low-income, even though no specific, income-based targeting has been used. But an ad can say, “We offer low-interest loans for the holidays.” Obviously, the question is more engaging than the statement — leaving copywriters trying to figure out how to draw people in and engage them with an ad, without actually asking an engaging question.

So why jump through the hoops and continue to advertise when the rules are so strict and wide? (And, by the way, also change frequently?) The answer: because there are 214 million Facebook users in the U.S., including 76% of all females and 66% of all males nationwide. We continue to increase client spends on Facebook because of the vast reach and targeting opportunities that exist there — but the main reason is results. Sales, leads, cost per lead, ROAS, event RSVPs, website traffic — these are hard metrics that we use every day to evaluate and optimize all of our digital campaigns. Right now, Facebook out-delivers every other digital placement out there, hands down. It’s worth the multiple ad rejections, the tough rules and even moving forward with the limited targeting options because of the real, tangible results we are able to generate for our clients.

If you continue to fight through the rules and try to move mountains to get your ad approved, we have found that the payoff at the end, just as with any worthy challenge, is definitely worth the effort.