Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Double Standard of Facebook Advertising

One of CMDS' clients is The Vapor Depot, an electronic cigarette retailer with local brick-and-mortar establishments and a web site where they also sell their products. CMDS has been doing social marketing and other tasks for The Vapor Depot for nearly two years now; in that time, they have seen a huge growth in social reach.

But it could be so much better, were it not for a ridiculous set of rules on Facebook that prohibits The Vapor Depot from purchasing advertising. Because the store sells "tobacco products" (electronic cigarettes contain zero tobacco or tobacco byproducts), we're not allowed to buy sidebar or news feed advertising. We have come to accept this, even though, quite frankly, it's ridiculous, especially when I personally see Facebook advertisements for electronic cigarette products DAILY in my news feed and sidebar. (This gets even more ridiculous in a moment.)

But what's really damaging our potential is that Facebook throttles the reach of Page posts in order to get Page Admins to buy Facebook advertising. You read that right: not only can The Vapor Depot not purchase any advertising, but the reach of their posts are limited amongst the audience (fans) that they already have in order to try to get The Vapor Depot to buy advertising - that will CERTAINLY get rejected.

So we thought, well, Facebook won't reject ads that are specifically supposed to go to the audience we have already built (through a TON of work because we're not allowed to advertise). So, I tried to promote a post for a commercial CMDS made for The Vapor Depot... but ONLY to people who already "liked" The Vapor Depot's Facebook page, figuring, "why would Facebook turn down free money to serve a post to people who already like the page?"

But they did. I took a screenshot of the message I received (less than 2 minutes after "Boosting" the ad):

The rejection text reads:

"Your post wasn't boosted because it violates Facebook's ad guidelines by including profanity, or language that refers to a person's age, gender, name, race, physical condition, or sexual orientation. The post is still published, but it is not running as an ad."

So, I wrote them a reply:

"The rejection said that the ad discriminated against someone? It doesn't. It's pretty clear that the ad was rejected because we're selling electronic cigarette products. But here's the thing: we know we can't advertise the products on Facebook (for whatever reason - ignorance is my guess) even though others are (I have seen ads on Facebook for electronic cigarette supplies in my own feed, and they're getting more frequent), but even though we're not allowed to advertise (which we're willing to do; we are willing to give you money), our posts are also being limited among people who already like our page. That's not fair. We should either get to advertise normally or all of our fans should get to see all of our posts, especially when it is clear that there is a double standard going on and other e-cig retailers are getting their ads through your system through duplicity. We're being honest here, and are willing to even pay to reach our own subscribers, and you won't let us? Seriously? Maybe I should let some other people know about the double (and triple) standards with Facebook advertising so that they can save their money, too."

And then I went to take a screenshot of the rejection screen as Facebook requested, and I got that shot above.

Look over there on the far right hand sidebar, at the very bottom.

Do you see it?

IT'S AN AD FOR ELECTRONIC CIGARETTE E-LIQUID! .... on a page that is rejecting a post of video for a cute commercial that was only supposed to be seen by people who already subscribe to the page.

So, I guess, actually, Facebook has a TRIPLE standard: fly-by-night businesses who deliberately skirt Facebook's advertising rules can place ads for electronic cigarette products, but people who play by the rules cannot even get their posts seen by their entire audience, even when they're prohibited from advertising at all.

The answer to all of this is REALLY SIMPLE, Facebook:
If you are going to selectively prohibit businesses from advertising (seemingly at random considering the advertising I personally saw on my ad rejection page), at least turn off the audience throttling for them. It is not fair. Either let us pay to grow our audience or let is get it organically, but for the love of pixels, don't get so greedy that you lose your base. People are already looking for the next big thing; don't get stupid greedy. Be smart.

I got what is CLEARLY an automated reply to my message this morning. It reads:

"Thanks for writing in. I'm here to help. Your ad was rejected because it violates the content policies of the Ad Guidelines. Ads may not promote tobacco or tobacco-related products, including E-cigarettes, cigars, rolling papers, bongs and hookahs. I understand your concern and appreciate your feedback but unfortunately, we cannot make an exception to this rule.

 Learn more about prohibited content here:

Please consider this the end of our correspondence about your ad.
Thanks for your understanding,
Facebook Ads Team
How condescending is that? Zero acknowledgement that I have evidence of the double standard. Zero apologies, zero working resolutions to the problem. I'd be flabbergasted, but I'm really not. The bottom line is this:

If you happen to sell "prohibited" products, you're going to have to work your butt off to get people to see your posts.