Bloomspot.com, an activity booking site predominantly targeting urban women, has been getting around Facebook's new policy that prohibits the frivolous use of age in ad copy. And, an electric scooter seller in the direct response niche appears to be circumventing another Facebook rule related to a user's location.
Facebook implemented a system last month designed to weed out ads arbitrarily featuring user-profile-based information like age and location. Since then, ClickZ saw Bloomspot ads that mention a user's age range (20s, 30s, etc.). The ads did not mention a specific age - a practice employed by other advertisers (i.e., "32 and male in Chicago?") before the Facebook rules change.
A headline from a Bloomspot ad seen on separate occasions from March 24 through March 31 read: "New York Women in 30s." The landing page copy was kicked off with the phrase, "Enjoy the best of the city for New York women in their 30s." None of the ads viewed mentioned a specific age. But if a user changed her year of birth in her profile, Bloomspot's ads would reflect her age bracket. Indeed, a user would see either "20s," "30s," "40s," or "50s" in the ad copy and landing page (see images below) depending on the year of birth shown in the profile. The ads did not appear to get served to women aged 60 and above.
In this instance, the reference to New York meets Facebook's location rule because it is related to the booking site's actual offer. Bloomspot focuses on the markets of New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles for its discounts on spas, restaurants, weekend getaways, and boutique retail. But the reference to a person's age range is not relevant, according to Facebook.
Bloomspot didn't respond to questions after multiple phone calls and e-mails about its ads during the past week. But CEO Jasper Malcomson did send ClickZ an e-mail on March 29. It said, "Please do not include Bloomspot in this article."
When showed the headline and landing page copy for the Bloomspot ad, Annie Ta, spokesperson for Facebook, confirmed such a practice breaks the social site's new ad copy rule. What's more, Bloomspot has been collecting e-mail addresses on its Facebook ad landing pages, which violates a different policy among the social site's rules.
"Yes, these are both against our policies," Ta said on March 31 in a one-sentence e-mail to ClickZ.
But Bloomspot isn't the only marketer that may be slipping through the cracks of Facebook's recently implemented ad-monitoring system, which according to the social site is part-automated and part-human. For instance, ads were seen March 31 on Facebook for the Scooter Store with the headline copy, "Freedom for New Yorkers," for users that list New York as their current city. Its closest entity is a distribution center/storefront in Farmingdale, NY, which is 45 to 50 miles from New York City. More importantly, the ad's landing page doesn't reference the Farmingdale location - instead pushing a national toll-free number.
Doug Foster, CMO for the New Braunfels, TX-based Scooter Store, said his company was in compliance with Facebook's location policy because it has a total of three distribution centers in New York state. "[Our] multiple New York locations allow us to proudly serve residents in every city in New York," he said.
Dan Sommer, CEO for New York-based Caridan Marketing Labs, places ads for a slew of higher-education brands and disagreed with Foster. "The effort has to be truly specific to that area," he said. "If they would point out the distribution center was available for fast delivery on the landing page, I think a case could be made. It'd be a stretch, but a case could be made."
Due to his experiences, Sommer said he empathizes with the challenges facing Facebook advertisers like Scooter Store - as the social site's policies quickly change like the early days of Google and search marketing. "I have a good relationship with Facebook, but [the recent ad policy changes] are something I struggle with every day," he explained. "[Scooter Store's ad] could be a case where the policy team didn't catch that. If maybe they tried to upload that tomorrow, it might not get in."
It's worth noting that the number of Facebook ads employing irrelevant user profile attributes has seemingly been reduced since the new policies and system went into place. So how are a few still making it into the clear? Facebook didn't extensively reply when asked about the subject, but it seems plausible that the social site is still working out the kinks to the part-automated, part-human monitoring system.
Oz Sultan, an executive advisor for Perks Consulting and an ad buyer, said that he had a hard time believing Facebook's ads are getting meaningful exposure to human review. "It's kind of incredulous when people are uploading thousands of ads a day," he said. "I mean, someone is looking through the ads on the Facebook side? Um, some of it doesn't make sense. They'll approve certain ads and turn down [similar ones]. Sometimes, it just doesn't make sense."
You can follow Christopher Heine on Twitter at @ChrisClickZ.
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Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.
March 19, 2014