Is it allowed to advertise sex on Facebook?

From tobacco to incorrect grammar: this is not how you should advertise on Facebook

As of this week, cryptocurrencies are no longer allowed to be advertised on Facebook. But which other, possibly critical products or services may not be part of the advertising? While tobacco and guns are not tolerated, there is a zero tolerance policy towards poor grammar and nudity.

Forbidden products on Facebook Ads: cryptocurrencies just one more

Only recently Facebook officially banned advertising for cryptocurrencies on Facebook, Instagram and within its own ad network. In the blog post it says:

Two of our core advertising principles outline our belief that ads should be safe, and that we build for people first. Misleading or deceptive ads have no place on Facebook.

However, advertisements for Bitcoin etc. are not the only non grata ads on the social network. In Facebook's official advertising guidelines, we find a large number of points that are not accepted in the context of advertising. While some of the products on this red list are hardly surprising, there are also a few notable specifications.

We took a look at this banned advertising content.

Tobacco, drugs and weapons are not surprising

Of course, there are clear no-gos when it comes to Facebook advertising. A prerequisite for this are the community standards, against which no ad may be directed per se. In addition, any illegal products or services are of course prohibited as well as ads with discriminatory tendencies.

With specific products, some areas stand out. For example, tobacco cannot be advertised. Specifically, it says that tobacco or tobacco-related products, including chewing tobacco or e-cigarettes, must not appear in the advertisements. Such a picture is not permitted on Facebook because it highlights an e-cigarette.

Nonetheless, anti-smoking campaigns and the like can be advertised. Other drugs must of course also not be part of advertising, although there may be self-help groups. Even if marijuana use is now legal in California, for example, the product may not appear in any promotional images on Facebook or Instagram. In the same way - and this seems at least a bit (positively) surprising for the NRA-influenced political image in the USA - any advertising of weapons, ammunition and explosives with regard to the sale and use itself is prohibited.

Which ban is a little more astonishing is the one on "unsafe food supplements". While it makes sense that anabolic steroids must not be part of the advertising, the display of supplements containing comfrey - a medicinal herb - is also not permitted. The decision here is at the "sole discretion of Facebook".

By the way, alcohol may be advertised, but the advertiser must

Comply with all applicable local laws, required or recommended industry standards, guidelines, licenses and permits, and use audience criteria based on age and country in accordance with Facebook Audience Selection Guidelines and applicable local laws.

However, in countries like Saudi Arabia, Russia, Norway, Lithuania, Egypt, etc., it is completely prohibited.

No sensational content, no adult content

The fact that the rights of third parties may not be violated can be considered a standard requirement. In addition, adult content is prohibited in ads. This includes nudity, but also sexually charged poses or the highlighting of certain body parts, even with no sexual connotation. In fact, implied nudity may not be shown in the artistic context either.

And when it comes to things that are not youth-free: products and services for adults are also not allowed. This includes sex toys and the like. However, contraceptives may be advertised to people aged 18 and over; but only if they explain their preventive function: "Safer sex with our branded condoms."

Anyone who could potentially feel a shock from nudity should do the same with other content. Sensory content of the following types is therefore prohibited:

  • sensational ones
  • shocking
  • disrespectful
  • Performing violence

That represents a wide spectrum. Facebook itself shows this picture of an accident that is considered unacceptable.

Personal characteristics are taboo, as is misleading and controversial content

When it comes to personalized advertising, advertisers on Facebook have to be careful. Personal characteristics are not to be claimed or implied. As an example: it is allowed to display advertisements to people according to their orientation or their needs, for example: "Gay cruises Atlantis". However, no indirect claim or the like may be part of the advertising. According to Facebook, the following would be inadmissible: "Are you gay?" Or "Meet other lesbians now!"

In addition to such bans, controversial content that commercially instrumentalizes political or social debates is not permitted. Likewise, no false or only misleading aspects may appear in the ads. Tips for losing weight, for example, are allowed; but not like this: "3 shocking tips to get rid of all your belly fat". And of course, the promotion of supposed remedies for incurable diseases is taboo.

When it comes to individual health, there are also clear rules. No before-and-after pictures may be part of the advertising.

However, health can also be referred to visually. Nevertheless, Facebook writes:

Advertisements for health, fitness or weight loss products must be aimed at users over the age of 18.

If the focus is on physical fitness, presentations are not a problem.

No instant loans, no monitoring devices - and certainly not malware

In the further listing of the prohibited products, services and aspects, a few clear points emerge. Malware is of course just as prohibited as spyware. As a result, no monitoring devices may be advertised. Applying for instant loans or cash advances is also considered unacceptable. Based on this, the options for "getting rich quickly" are strictly forbidden.

Facebook also names other clearly illegitimate aspects for advertising on the platform:

  • Unauthorized streaming devices
  • Bypassing systems (based on Facebook's test procedure for the ads)
  • Automatic animations in the ad
  • Forged documents
  • Penny auctions

Insults and bad grammar are an exclusion criterion like bad content in general

Finally, we find three more basic points that lead to the ban on ads on Facebook. First, there would be bad or incorrect grammar and an excessive number of symbols. The punctuation must also be correct. And since offensive signs, whether images or written language, are prohibited, this example is unacceptable: "Get the f * &% ing best t-shirts here."

Not only the grammar plays a role, because content of "poor or disturbing quality" is also not tolerated in Facebook's advertising program. In principle, this point only says that sexually suggestive or misleading advertising texts are to be avoided, etc. In addition, care must be taken that the advertisements do not have any fake functions. A play button that has no play function is prohibited, as is the imitation of Facebook functions.

What does Facebook check and does it live up to these guidelines?

Facebook checks all advertisements, usually within 24 hours. The ad review pays attention to whether the landing page promises what the ad delivers; whether it even works accordingly and whether the advertised content can be found there.

If your ad is rejected, you can edit it or object to the rejection. How much chance of success such an objection has is questionable. After all, Facebook edits it at its own discretion; and Facebook eventually rejected the ad.

But is the company consistent in adhering to the advertising guidelines? In the case of some advertisements played on Facebook, it could be argued that, for example, they make controversial content on the topic or implicitly cause sexually charged situations. In fact, this is often in the eye of the beholder and, optimistically speaking, Facebook will sometimes look at ads in their context and then assess their suitability over minor potential violations of the guidelines.

Certainly, these cannot always be fully complied with. But at least the stipulation that content that can negatively affect a society - and especially young people and children - should be excluded from advertising is honorable. That can be highlighted in the light of Facebook's advertising empire.

And ultimately, for some advertisers, playing with the limits of grammar or perhaps nudity is a challenge. In the case of discrimination, drugs, misleading and the like, however, no border crossing or crossing may be tolerated. Facebook has this responsibility towards society - this is borne out by the number of users. The advertising income figures show that you have to try to live up to it. And at least there is the function to report advertisements. A feature that users may want to consider from time to time.

A list of advertising content that is only permitted under certain conditions, such as alcohol or online pharmacies, can be found here.