The dating industry is like advertising kryptonite.
Their ads are either completely prohibited, or reviewed at length (before most likely being disapproved ultimately) on most major ad networks.
But so too are fitness, health, and medical ads.
Even AdEspresso, a Facebook Marketing Partner, had one ad get disapproved because it used the word “blindness” (referring, of course, to banner blindness and not the actual physical condition).
As you’re about to see, there are MANY inadvertent ways you can fall victim to violating Facebook guidelines.
Here’s how to create good ads when you can’t use words.
A Refresher on Prohibited Facebook Ad Content
To grab attention.
Which is why most ad networks – except, well, porn ones (nervous to click that link while on your work computer and network?) – try to keep strict control over the types of images and language used by advertisers to avoid anything potentially suggestive, illegal or distasteful.
Makes perfect sense. Because ads are supposed to.
Not bum people out by focusing on bombastic negativity (that’s what the news is for).
Beyond ad networks, other marketing businesses like MailChimp keep strict quality controls over what’s allowed on their systems. For example, their prohibited content includes anything related to dating services, pharmaceutical products, ‘make money online,’ multi-level marketing, affiliate marketing, credit or debit services, list brokers, and selling ‘Likes.’
So let’s quickly run down a list of the obvious ones that tend to trip people up.
Always check the latest ad policies if you have something remotely in question because these things tend to change or evolve quickly.
Also, there are Facebook Community Standards and Instagram Community Guidelines that shouldn’t be violated either.
- Nothing illegal or exploitative. Obvious.
- Weapons, ammunition, and explosives. This should go without saying.
- Nothing misleading or “exerting undue pressure” on age groups targeted (think tobacco for teens and reverse mortgages for granny).
- Speaking of tobacco, it isn’t allowed. Neither is ‘paraphernalia’ which could be stretched to include vape cigarettes (is that what the kids are calling them these days?), illegal or recreational drugs, unsafe supplements (which Facebook gets to make the final decision on), and adult products (like contraceptives) unless for family planning purposes.
- Copyright and other intellectual property or trademark infringements.
- Now my favorite. Sex. No implied nudity or “suggestive positions” that are evocative or focus heavily on a single body party. No ‘before and after’ images or anything that suggests unrealistic or impossible transformations. Here are the images Facebook uses to portray this:
(I guess I’m not allowed to appear on a Facebook ad then?)
- Nothing gory, violent, shocking, or “violently confronting” images.
- Flash animation is prohibited.
- Nothing personal. Let’s be honest. Facebook’s got a lot of dirt on you. They know your race, gender, religious or political leanings (probably even sexual preferences). So you can’t use language that refers specifically towards someone’s personal attributes. The oft-quoted example: “Meet Christian Women” is fine, while “Meet Other Christian Women” is not, because it implies the advertiser knows something personal about the viewer. (Which they do, but should act like they don’t. You know, for privacy reasons.)
- Alcohol is one good example, where each country’s specific laws need to be taken into account. In some countries alcohol advertising isn’t allowed at all (Afghanistan, Egypt, Russia, etc.), some have older ages (25+ in Sweden), and lower in others (19 in Canada, Korea, and Nicaragua).
- Dating? Good luck. You need written permission, there are super specific quality guidelines here, AND you need to fill out this form to become a ‘registered dating partner.’
- You also need written consent for anything related to gambling. While only government run lotteries may advertise, assuming the ad targeting abides by the local jurisdiction (and doesn’t target anyone else outside of that).
- Supplements walk a fine line, where herbal ones can only target legal adults (18 years+), and pharmacies need written permission.
- Branded content gets tricky, with a specific tool (here) that needs to be used to make sure third party products, brands or sponsors are correctly tagged.
- While subscription products (that include automatic renewals, free-to-paid, or mobile marketing) have their own requirement policies and guidelines (check here).
Got all of that?
Good. ‘Cause it’s just the beginning.
- There are ALSO requirements for the pages you’re sending people. For example, you can’t restrict a user’s movement (like not letting them exit or leave the page). These external pages cannot be misleading from the original ad, including quality or minimal original content and obvious spelling errors or grammar mistakes. And obviously, there can’t be anywhere spyware, malware or other ‘deceptive’ stuff.
So why go through all of these? (Besides hitting my required word count you mean?)
There are A LOT of ways your ads can get flagged or disapproved.
Max provides a few great insights into the ad review process, speculating that ads can get approved faster (or preferential treatment) depending on your Facebook ad account history, keyword, domain and image analysis. So they might get through the automated process quicker but will still have to pass a manual human approval too.
We haven’t even talked about the infamous ‘20% rule’, and issues with words or text used on image themselves.
Almost 5,000 images are shared every second across Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and more.
That becomes problematic, as wordless ad images by themselves often become meaningless.
For example, Exhibit A:
How do you create (a) a good ad (b) that doesn’t get rejected and (c) still shows something somewhat meaningful?
Here are a few examples of how other advertisers have done it.
7 Wordless Facebook Ad Examples to Emulate
If facts tell and stories sell, images are your primary sales tool. Because images increase user engagement by 94%.
One reason is because it only takes 13 milliseconds for our brains to process an image according to MIT (but what do they know?!).
Beyond the fact that people don’t read anymore, that startling speed almost makes image consumption subconscious.
However, as we just saw, the images need to be good. They need to be relevant and quickly – in a literal blink of an eye – translate what’s going on.
Here are a few good examples from other advertisers. (For the sake of argument, let’s ignore the rest of the ad’s components at this point and focus primarily on the ad.)
First up, is an event by Airzoone.
If we temporarily ignore the big calendar date and location information, the image does a good job depicting some sort of parade or procession in the foreground, with spectators’ focusing on said performers in the background.
The image uses a variety of colors and visually stimulating cultural elements which enhance the emotional connection to the image.
Another key component is the variety of human faces which not only draw your eye but also influence your perceptions about the ad.
Good product images, when done correctly, can also be more preferential (considered “very important” by 67% of consumers) than product information, full description, and customer ratings according to MDG Advertising.
Again, multiple textures and colors are used on a stark white background to create a visually stimulating contrast. This approach is similar to the way Apple products are always shown.
The primary image on a landing page is commonly referred to as a ‘hero image’ because it’s supposed to transform the viewer; making them feel the elation or transformation that the image is depicting.
Marketo’s example is a textbook example, showcasing a triumphant figure who ascended the mountaintop triumphantly. You can’t see their face, which helps to imagine yourself in their position. And once again, color contrast is used brilliantly to create separation between the conquistador’s bright red jacket and the cool grays, whites and blue hues of the background.
Yes, this next one is corny. Super duper, two thumbs-up corny.
But it’s also very good. The person just off-screen that everyone is looking at is You. In the foreground are some computers with editing software, where you’re working on the latest cut from the duo in the background behind the soundproof glass.
In one simple glimpse, you know exactly what’s happening and what they’re eventually going to sell you.
When you look at the power of visual storytelling, there’s also a powerful motivator of ‘sensory currency‘ that says we’re drawn to craftsman-like things that we can create with our hands.
This ad then delivers on several levels, providing us with probably one of the best examples to model to (a) get people to imagine themselves in the image, (b) instantly showcase what people get, and (c) hitting powerful innate motivators to psychologically attract buy-in.
These three nerdy students are collaborating on something (doesn’t matter what) with obvious technical or mathematical information cleverly positioned in the background.
Again, slightly corny. But still effective, because the #1 factor of ‘powerful visuals’ is authenticity according to Getty Images.
Their faces slanted down, with eye-lines pointing to the same place (also cleverly positioned under the center of the image) help to focus your attention, drawing your own eyes to the same exact spot (like the ad headline and CTA).
Disgust. Anger. Disapproval.
Whatever this 50’s style, white suburban dad is holding, isn’t good.
According to Science of People (a super interesting blog you’re about to lose the next 30 minutes browsing), there are seven ‘universal microexpressions’ that often occur “as fast as 1/15 to 1/25 of a second“:
That means there’s almost no faster way to communicate a powerful motivator than through someone’s microexpression. That’s especially helpful when ads of strangers in your photos are trying to compete for attention with someone’s best friend, family, and exes (insert crack about all exes livin’ in Texas).
Ocean Sushi & Noodles Bar
Sometimes, you don’t have to overthink it.
It’s tempting to over-complicate what makes a successful ad with a multitude of psychological studies and powerful narratives.
The fact that these words are in another language doesn’t even matter. All you see is good sushi. The bright colors accentuate freshness against a dark background that yet again helps focus your eye on the meat (literally) of the image.
I’d continue to pontificate, but suddenly I just got very hungry. So let’s wrap this up.
Violating Facebook’s ad guidelines is surprisingly easy, even when completely unintentional.
That’s not a knock; as they rightfully need to police an ad network that’s commonly viewed by teens (and younger).
But because their audience network is so large and multifaceted, they need to try and accommodate many different kinds of products, businesses, and organizations. Which means they’ll inevitably come up with very specific use cases and permission requirements to make sure everything shown is on the up-and-up.
One way to get your ads approved (or at least give them a fighting chance) is to use wordless ads where the images do the communicating for you.
It’s a tricky tightrope to walk, but it’s doable. Especially if you can tap into powerful human motivators and strategically use vibrant color choices to create powerful, visually arresting images.
What about you? Have you had your ads inadvertently disapproved? Ever tried using wordless ads instead?
Share your story in the comments below!