Confessions of a Facebook advertising scofflaw

Is Facebook really banning all ads that promote Google+? I decided to find out.

Want to advertise on Facebook? You gotta play by the rules. And one of those rules appears to be “Don’t mention Google Plus.”

UK-based Web designer Michael Lee Johnson found this out the hard way late last week, when he posted an innocuous ad inviting his Facebook friends to come join him on G+. The ad ran for about an hour before getting pulled by Facebook. Worse, FB nixed Johnson’s entire advertising account, including ads for his own services that did not mention G+.

[See also: Who do you trust more, Google or Facebook? ]

As of this writing Facebook has yet to explain why they pulled his account; the event has, however, made Johnson something of a minor celebrity on G+. He writes:

OK, so this weekend has certainly been hectic. - I've been inundated with a multitude of emails, inbox-messages and multi-platform friend requests that has resulted in sleep loss, lack of food and far too much caffeine. - It's been a long weekend. - Believe me. I've had over 6000 friend requests, 1000's of shares, re-shares, media mentions, tweets, re-tweets, comments, articles and blog posts from all over the world mentioning my Facebook advertisement. - The amount of correspondence that I've had to reply to has been ridiculous... Overwhelming one might say.

Still, it’s entirely possible that Facebook killed Johnson’s account for reasons having nothing to do with G+. I decided to find out by creating my own ad. 

[img_assist|nid=184631|title=Facebook G+ Ad #1 (Rejected!)|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=268|height=117]

That was pretty blatant, I thought. If Facebook allowed this ad to go through, then either Johnson’s expulsion was unrelated to G+ or Facebook quickly learned that killing his account was a chowder-headed thing to do.

Of course they didn’t approve it. About three hours later I got an email from Facebook telling me the ad was verboten, though not for the reasons I expected. To wit:

The content of this ad does not accurately reflect the product or service advertised. Ads must clearly disclose what actions are required to receive the product or service. The landing page must also explicitly state to what extent a user's information will be used or distributed.

I really liked that last bit. Do Facebook’s own landing pages explicitly state how our information is used and distributed, or what actions are required to receive the service? No, we get to wade through a 5,888-word privacy policy. But I digress.

Facebook did not give me an option to modify my ad, so I created a new one. This time I even changed some elements Facebook might have objected to but didn’t -- like the use of the G+ logo, over which I own no copyright, and the mention of Facebook (which is forbidden by Facebook’s ad guidelines), and the mention of a Facebook competitor (also forbidden).

Here’s the new ad:

[img_assist|nid=184633|title=Facebook G+ Ad #2 (Rejected!)|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=269|height=139]

Again, I got rejected – but this this it was because the link in my ad didn’t work. (Oops.) Facebook gave me the option to edit this ad, so I corrected the bad URL and resubmitted. The third rejection notice came about three hours later:

The content promoted in this ad is not permitted on Facebook. We reserve the right to choose the advertisements that appear on the site, and ads for this product or service should not be resubmitted.

That rejection contained a link to a Facebook help page listing the various types of ads Facebook will not accept: Porn, spam, tobacco, weapons, work from home scams, ‘hate’ content and “ads for products or services that are deemed inherently deceptive, fraudulent or harmful.”

I guess ads for G+ might appear harmful to Facebook. Can’t see anyone else getting hurt. Still, I sent a polite email to their advertising department asking why my ad was rejected. I’m still waiting for an answer.

Will Facebook actually admit that it won’t allow ads for G+? That is the question. And then the next question is, why not? Are Zuckerberg & co. really that frightened of Google? That alone would speak volumes.

UPDATE: Myrtle from Facebook's ad team confirms that G+ ads are a no-go:

Part of our advertising guidelines is that we may refuse ads at any time for any reason, including our determination that they promote competing products or services or negatively affect our business or relationship with our users.
If you have any other questions about this, please refere to our Advertising Guidelines. You will be able to find this information in bullet point "6. Refusal of Ads."

So why couldn't they just say that in the first place?

ITworld TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan can’t come up with anything clever to say here. You might have better luck by visiting his eHumor site eSarcasm or following him on Twitter: @tynan_on_tech.

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