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Need to Know: Facebook Special Ad Categories

Published on 28th February 2022

What are Special Ad Categories and why have they been introduced?

The Facebook Special Ad Category is a new classification for ads that link to housing, credit, job opportunities or social issues such as elections, politics, or social causes. Facebook created these categories as a way of enforcing their policies against discriminatory practices in advertising. This is one of Facebook’s ways of ‘walking the walk’ when it comes to preventing discrimination based on demographic characteristics, such as age and gender.

What does this mean for you and your clients?

It’s likely you’re already experiencing the effects of Special Ad Categories if your clients’ content covers topics such as sustainability, employment or housing. If not, you can expect to soon, as Facebook has ramped up their advertising review system. All ads are reviewed by Facebook before they are served to your specified audience, through a combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and human review. Facebook checks the ad’s creative, copy and positioning, against their Community Standards and Advertising Policies. They may also consider the content on an ad’s landing page.

Sustainability is a hot-topic right now and as brands make more effort to communicate their green credentials they may well face a struggle to receive approval on sustainability-focused content, as this now falls within the ‘Social Issues’ category. Similarly, if brand content covers employment be it internships, professional certification programmes, you will most certainly feel the effects of the rigorous review process. Housing content which mentions property listings, home insurance or mortgages and any content which references credit services will also face more stringent review and restrictions.

Submitting your ad as a Special Category means it will automatically be subject to the below restrictions:

  • Reduced interest targeting. (See more on this below)
  • Radius targeting set to a minimum of 15 miles around the targeted city, address or pin-drop
  • Targeting exclusions and audience expansion will be unavailable
  • Custom audiences will need to refrain from characteristics such as gender or street address
  • Lookalike audiences will be excluded altogether
  • Age targets will be set to 18-65+
  • Targeting by gender or postal code prohibited.

Big changes, we know. However, the writing was on the wall. From January 19th 2022, Facebook have begun to remove other detailed targeting options on all ads that relate to what may be perceived as sensitive topics, such as options referencing causes, organizations, religion, health, sexual orientation etc. These changes will take full effect on the platform from March 17th 2022.

So far, we have seen the following categories removed from audience targeting with more still yet to be removed: Veganism, Business Owner, Food Lover Magazine, Being Vegan, Healthy Eating, Café Americano, Tesco Ireland.

Where do you go from here?

Targeting will continue to become broader over time, from an optimistic viewpoint, this update presents some great opportunities.  So don’t panic.

There’s an array of things that you can do to find the solution which best fits the individual needs of your client:

  1. Adopt a test and learn approach. While there are limitations to targeting, there are still plenty of options to target related audience interests. Take a deep dive to find new and alternative audience interests to target and test these to discover what works best to drive results.
  2. Make use of Custom Audiences, however, make sure first that these do not contain any of the disallowed personal characteristics.
  3. We may have lost Lookalike Audiences, but we can create Special Ad Audiences! Similar to a Lookalike audience in that it uses online behaviour similarities from the people in your source. However, a Special Ad Audience is adjusted to comply with the audience selection restrictions – it won’t use targeting information such as age and gender, or certain demographics, behaviours or interests.
  4. Get authorised in order to display the ‘Paid for by…’ messaging. What’s that now? Well…as an extension of the Special Ads Categories update, Facebook now require that all Ads about social issues require authorization and a “Paid for by” disclaimer if the ad content includes discussion, debate or advocacy for or against social issues. Applying for authorization will require key actions which can be found here.
  5. With limited targeting options, creative and copy are now more important than ever. Use A/B testing to find out what resonates best with the audience you want to reach.
  6. Take the opportunity to diversify your clients’ digital approach. Facebook may have the lion’s share of global social media users, however other platforms such as TikTok and Pinterest also offer huge reach potential, without the same limitations we’re seeing on Facebook.

Special ad categories may need careful navigation at the minute, but undoubtedly it will drive change and diversification. Seize the opportunity to do different.

Keep an eye on our social channels and website for future digital update news and insider knowledge.