Is Facebook Taking Their New 20% Rule Too Far?

Posted on February 14th 2013

Is Facebook Taking Their New 20% Rule Too Far?

Facebook ads rejected

I am sure most of you have heard by now about the “20% rule” that Facebook recently instituted for advertisers and page administrators. If not, the basic premise of the rule is that any image in a Facebook ad can have no more than 20% text. This goes for traditional ("like") ads and sponsored ads. The rule also applies to page cover images.

Facebook always has their eye on the customer experience, as they should, and this new regulation no doubt addresses an area that they must have seen as exploitable and threatening. Given the growing adoption rate of newsfeed ads, it makes sense that Facebook would be concerned about the content that they are inserting into the news feeds of unsuspecting users.

Generally, Facebook is very lax in enforcing their page guidelines. Just go through your page feed right now and click on a few of the pages. I am sure you will see promotional language in cover images and maybe even a non-app contest: both grounds for a nastygram from Palo Alto, if caught. The problem is that with hundreds of thousands of pages in existence, it is very difficult to police all of them regularly.

Well, Facebook is taking the new 20% rule very seriously. Not only have they been rejecting countless ads that are submitted for approval, but they have been going through advertiser accounts and rejecting paused ads for violating the rule. Fine, right? Facebook has all the right in the word to reject these ads if they violate the rules.

Here is the problem.

Recently, I had a client’s sponsored story ad rejected. It was a typical sponsored story ad. All it consisted of was the page’s thumbnail, the name of the page and the typical blurb about which of your friends like the page. Very standard and almost no customization with this ad format.

Imagine my shock when I got an email saying the ad (which was initially approved and had been running for 3 days already) was rejected. If you haven’t gotten one of these rejection emails, you are missing out. It was a basic form email, but this part was definitely my favorite: 

Facebook ad rejections

That’s right, no real reason given, just a directive to their very general help center. Super helpful.

Shortly thereafter, all of my sponsored ads were rejected. Again, Facebook’s guidelines were followed closely and there was nothing in these ads that violated the rules. Again, no reason for the rejection.

After 24 hours of going back and forth with an ad rep (who was super helpful and very pleasant, FWIW) my ads were re-approved with an apology. When pushed for a reason for the original rejection (so I could make sure it wouldn’t happen again), I was told “They were disapproved in error; I apologize for the inconvenience.” That’s it.

In the time since, I have had every other ad placed for this client rejected. Again, all are clearly in compliance with Facebook’s guidelines and no reason given. I am waiting to hear back from their team to find out why this time, although I don’t hold out much hope of this situation resolving itself in the near future.

Yesterday, I had all of my sponsored story ads for another client rejected. Same story: All had been running for some time; all conform to Facebook’s advertising guidelines; most of them did not have an image other than the page’s thumbnail and once again, no reason given.

This spontaneous ad-rejection phenomenon isn’t just targeting a few campaigns of mine. I belong to a few Facebook ad groups on various social networks and these rejections seem to be happening more and more. No violation, no reason, just rejection.

So what gives?

Here is my theory for these rejections: In both cases, the client’s page thumbnail (their logo) is mostly text much like a majority of logos these days. Facebook must be looking at the brand’s thumbnail as an ad image, which would then violate the 20% rule. This is the only thing that could explain all of these ads triggering a rejection when there is nothing in them that is in violation. The only constant between all of these sponsored ads is the text in the client’s thumbnail.

That is my theory and the only way that the rejections could make sense.

If this theory is correct and they are considering thumbnails as ad images for sponsored ads, they are essentially telling a majority of brands that they cannot use their brand identity as their Facebook page thumbnail if they are planning on advertising on the platform in the future. That can’t be a good idea.

Think about all of the major brands that use text in their Facebook page thumbnails. Amazon, Toys R Us, Home Depot, Lowes, Kohls, heck even Facebook’s own thumbnail contain more than 20% text over image. It would be a crippling blow to Facebook’s ad platform to restrict this.

It will be interesting to see if these Sponsored Story ad rejections are a result of an overambitious member of the Facebook ad police or a damaging interpretation of the new image rule. Unfortunately, finding out will require a straight answer from Facebook. We’ll see if we get one…

To my fellow Facebook advertisers, have you had any strange Facebook ad rejections lately? Leave a comment and share your experience. Facebook advertising is such a critical component of just about any social media campaign these days, so it is important that Facebook hears our concerns and addresses them.

craigpsmith

Craig Smith

I am a digital marketing strategist by day and also run a little digital marketing blog in my spare time (expandedramblings.com).

My roots lie in both web development and public relations, and I enjoy bridging the gap between the digital and traditional marketing worlds and explaining what new technology and trends mean to businesses.

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Comments

lizashaw
Posted on February 14th 2013 at 7:11PM

Hi Craig, I don't use sponsor ads so this doesn't affect me, but I can well understand the frustration.

Hopefully, for all your sakes, Mark and his team get this sorted quick smart, It'd be in their best interest.

As for the cause... I'm not sure its entirely down to human error, that's one very busy person if it is. My thoughts are that its more likely an error in the algorithm, its been set up too tight, how on earth they rectify that is any ones guess, but they will eventually.

SLcampaign
Posted on March 15th 2013 at 10:13AM

Thanks for this. Exactly this happened to us and until now we couldn't explain it. We posted and promoted 4 infographics:

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152133451769057&set=a.101502268...

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152145386629057&set=a.101502268...

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152139267964057&set=a.101502268...

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152133480724057&set=a.101502268...

3 of the 4 were rejected for promotion (I bet you incorrectly guess which 3). As you say the system is kafkaesque and its not at all obvious why they were rejected. However looking through I could only come to the conclusion that we had fallen fowl of the 20% rule. However in 2 of the 3 rejected ads the area covered by text is considerably less than 20% - and in the third I would say it was arguable: these are infographics and not very text heavy, they are certainly within the spirit of the facebook guidelines even if not the letter.

Not that this did us any good. Not spending enough money to have a facebook rep we were forced to go through their labyrinthine form system. This then led to me filing 3 complaints and receiving no response whatsoever to two of them. The third complaint was responded to by a cursory email from a do-not-reply email address saying we had fallen foul of the 20% rule and had no right to appeal.

I think the 20% rule is being misapplied but this is not what annoys me, what annoys me is that it is impossible to have any sort of a dialogue with facebook.

langohio
Posted on April 10th 2013 at 9:13PM

Craig, have had the same problem: all promotions now rejected with the same comment that I can't use the FB brand. None of the ads have used the FB brand. Some promotions haven't even included an image. My question: how do I contact their ad rep directly? I've come across no contact info at all. Thanks.