You can’t advertise that: The big list of prohibited ads across social and search platforms
To get ads approved in a timely manner, brands need to know what content is allowed, what’s restricted and what’s prohibited. Marketing Land put together this cheat sheet to help.
Part of managing successful ad campaigns involves knowing what types of ad content is disallowed and what’s restricted across the social and search ad landscape. Most prohibited content (counterfeit goods, illegal products and services, etc.) and restricted content (political ads, alcohol, etc.) follows similar standards from one platform to the next, but each company has its own set of rules.
For the marketers who are often tasked with getting ad campaigns up and running in a moment’s notice, knowing what ad content may be blocked by an automatic system could be a lifesaver for the social media ad manager who spends her time in the trenches, uploading creative, setting ad filters and waiting for approval.
Across all social and search ad platforms, the standard rules apply for prohibited ads: no promoting counterfeit goods, tobacco, illegal products or services. No promotions that include trademark or copyright infringement or fraudulent and deceptive practices. Restricted ad content – ads you can run, but with certain limitations – are a bit more varied from platform to platform. Some platforms make their rules easy to follow or refrain from getting too much into the minutiae of things, while others are very specific. The following list gives marketers a general idea of each platforms prohibited and restricted ad guidelines, while also calling out the more unique policies from site to site.
Facebook and Instagram
Facebook’s prohibited ad content across its family of apps includes the standards: no ads promoting illegal products or services, tobacco products or firearms and weapons. It also prohibits ads for surveillance equipment or any ad content that includes third-party infringement (no ads that violate copyright, trademark, privacy, publicity or other personal or proprietary rights).
But there are a few topics worth noting. For example, the company does not allow ads that lead to a non-functioning landing page, “This includes landing page content that interferes with a person’s ability to navigate away from the page.” You cannot advertise for payday loans, paycheck advancement services or bail bonds. And here’s one that makes anyone wonder if there was a specific instance that inspired the rule: Facebook does not allow the sale of body parts.
For restricted content, advertisers wanting to promote online dating services must receive permission from the platform before running ads, same with political and issue-related ads and cryptocurrency products and services. Promotions around gambling, state lotteries, OTC drugs and online pharmacies also come with restrictions.
Drug and alcohol addiction treatment programs in the U.S. must first be certified via LegitScript before they can apply to run ads on Facebook’s platforms. And ads for weight loss products and plans must be targeted to users age 18 years and older.
Google and YouTube
Google has recently taken efforts to simply and standardize its content policies. It didn’t actually change or updates its rules around allowed and disallowed ads, but instead, reorganized how it presents content policies and restrictions across AdSense, AdMob and Ad Manager.
“One consistent piece of feedback we’ve heard from our publishers is that they want us to further simplify our policies, across products, so that they are easier to understand and follow,” wrote Google’s Director of Sustainable Ads Scott Spencer on the Inside AdSense blog.
Google keeps its prohibited and restricted ads general, outlining a high-level over view of what’s prohibited and what’s restricted. Prohibited ad content includes:
- Counterfeit goods
- Dangerous products or services
- Ads that enable dishonest behavior
- Inappropriate content
Google also separates out ad practices it prohibits: abusing the ad network, misrepresentation and data collection and use (“Our advertising partners should not misuse this information, nor collect it for unclear purposes or without appropriate security measures”).
The company’s list of restricted ad content is more comprehensive, but still stays within the usual parameters without any odd items – like human body parts. Google’s restricted content ad policies include:
- Adult content
- Gambling and games
- Healthcare and medicines
- Political content
- Financial services
- Legal requirements (all ads must comply with the laws and regulations pertaining to the location where the ad is displayed).
Google keeps its ad policies at a high-level for the most part, a tactic that gives the company more control to decide on a case-by-case basis what’s allowed and what’s not.
LinkedIn is a Microsoft-owned platform, but its prohibited and restricted ad policies are separate from the rules outlined for Microsoft and Bing. In addition to the usual disallowed content, LinkedIn’s list of prohibited ads has some interesting entries. For example, the site does not allow ads for downloadable ringtones and occult pursuits (“Ads for fortune telling, dream interpretations and individual horoscopes are prohibited, except when the emphasis is on amusement rather than serious interpretation”).
Also, instead of having restrictive measures around political ads, LinkedIn prohibits any political ad content, same as its parent company: no ads advocating for or against a political candidate or promoting ballot propositions.
LinkedIn’s restricted ad content includes the following:
- Animal products
- Dating services
- Soliciting funds
- Medical devices
- Short-term loans and financial services.
One side note about LinkedIn’s ad policies, the company specifically states that it prohibits ads that are offensive to good taste. “This means ads must not be, for example, hateful, vulgar, sexually suggestive or violent. In special circumstances, LinkedIn may determine that an ad that was acceptable is no longer appropriate as we update our policies to reflect new laws or clarify our position.”
Microsoft’s disallowed and restricted ad policies, which include rules for Bing search ads, can be confusing to follow. The company has published a one-page list of “Restricted and disallowed content policies,” but within that page are links to more detailed pages for “Disallowed Content Policies” and “Disallowed and restricted products and services policies.”
Microsoft disallows any election related content, political parties, candidates and ballot measures. Ads promoting fundraising efforts for political candidates, parties, PACs and ballot measures are also prohibited.
As with other platforms, Microsoft doesn’t allow weapons to be advertised on its platforms. This includes firearms and ammunition, but also knives: “Knives that are positioned as weapons or whose primary use is violence, including switchblade knives, disguised knives, buckle knives, lipstick case knives, air gauge knives, knuckle knives and writing pen knives.”
In Brazil, India and Vietnam, Microsoft does not allow advertising that promotes infant feeding products such as baby formula, feeding bottles, rubber nipples or baby food of any kind.
To get a clear understanding of Microsoft’s disallowed ads versus the ads that can run but only with restrictions, advertisers need to review the company’s “Restricted and disallowed content policies” — as opposed to its “Disallowed Content Policies” page — where it outlines specific rules and regulations.
Pinterest’s prohibited ad content guidelines follows the standard themes. No ads for:
- Drugs and paraphernalia
- Endangered species and live animals
- Illegal products and services
- Counterfeit goods
- Sensitive content
- Unacceptable business practices
- Weapons and explosives
Pinterest defines “Sensitive content” as anything it deems divisive or disturbing. For example, language or imagery that is offensive or profane, excessively violent or gory, vulgar or sickening or politically, culturally or racially divisive or insensitive. It also does not allow content that capitalizes on controversial or tragic events – or references to sensitive health and medical conditions.
Pinterest does not allow any “Adult and nudity content” in ads on its platform. Also, ads containing clickbait are disallowed. Like LinkedIn, it prohibits political campaign ads.
The company keeps its list of restricted ad content simple with a detailed outline of what it will and won’t allow around its restricted content. For example, ads that include contests, sweepstakes and Pinterest incentives are restricted. Advertisers are asked not to require users to save a specific image or suggest that Pinterest in any way sponsors or endorses the promotion. It does state specifically that advertisers are not allowed to promote anything that, “Directs people to click on Pinterest buttons to get money, prizes or deals.”
Pinterest’s other restricted ad content includes:
- Financial products and services (ads promoting cryptocurrencies and payday loans are prohibited)
- Gambling products and services (no ads for lotteries, gambling gaming apps or gambling websites)
- Healthcare products and services
In terms of its healthcare related ads, Pinterest does allow ads promoting products like eyeglasses or content lenses, Class I and II medical devices and OTC, non-prescription medicines. It does not allow ads for weight loss or appetite suppressant pills and supplements or promotions that claim unrealistic cosmetic results.
Reddit’s list of prohibited and restricted list of ads follows suit with the other social platforms. Disallowed ads include promotions for counterfeit goods, hazardous products or services, illegal or fraudulent products or services and more of the same standard policies. It states specifically that advertisers are prohibited from using inappropriate targeting: “All targeting must be relevant, appropriate, and in compliance with relevant legal obligations of the advertiser.”
Reddit does not allow advertisements for addiction treatment centers and services, it does not accept advertising pertaining to political issues, elections or candidates outside of the U.S. It has a very specific list of financial services and products that are disallowed, including bail bonds, payday loans, debt assistance programs, cryptocurrency wallets, credit and debit cards, and “get rich quick schemes.”
Any advertiser wanting to promote gambling-related services must have their ads manually approved and certified by Reddit: “In order to be approved, the advertiser must be actively working with a Reddit Sales Representative.” This does not include ads for gaming promotions where nothing of value is exchanged, gambling-related merchandise or hotel-casinos where the ad is focused on the hotel.
And while Reddit does allow ads for dating sites, apps and services, it prohibits any centered on infidelity, fetish communities or any that discriminate by excluding persons of specific races, sexuality, religions or political affiliations.
Snapchat’s prohibited ads include the usual suspects, but there are also entries that appear to be designed because of its younger audience. For example, the platform states specifically that it does not allow ads that, “Encourage Snapping and driving or other dangerous behaviors.”
Also, it disallows ads intended to “shock the user” and no ads for app installs from sources other than the official app store for the user’s device. Other prohibited ads include any promotions that involve:
- Infringing content
- Deceptive content
- Hateful or discriminatory content
- Inappropriate content
Snapchat’s restricted ads for alcohol include a list of 18 countries where alcohol ads cannot be placed. Alcohol ad campaigns that run in allowed countries must not appeal particularly to minors or encourage excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages. They must also refrain from glamorizing alcohol, “Or otherwise misrepresent the effects of consuming alcohol.” Snapchat requires alcohol advertisers to include warning labels such as “Please drink responsibly” within their ad copy.
Also, alcohol promotions must be targeted to users who meet the legal drinking age requirement within the country where the ads run. The same goes for gambling and lottery related ads – they must be targeted to users who meet the legal age requirement to gamble.
Same as Reddit, Snapchat allows ads for dating services, but they must be targeted to users age 18 and over, and cannot include provocative, overtly sexual content or reference prostitution. Also, Snapchat does not allow ads that promote infidelity.
Many of Snapchat’s restrictive ad policies are by country. For example, it only permits targeting lottery-related ads to 14 countries, including Brazil, Iraq, Italy, Poland and Russia – but not the U.S. Snapchat does not permit targeting ads for online dating services to Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Advertisers cannot target ads for OTC medicines in Columbia, Iraq, Lebanon, Romania, Spain and Turkey. It also does not permit targeting ads for condoms in Bahrain, Ireland, Kuwait, Lebanon, Monaco, Oman, Poland and Qatar.
In other words, if you are an advertiser managing multiple ad campaigns for various brands across multiple countries, you probably should bookmark Snapchat’s ad restrictions page.
Twitter’s list of prohibited and restricted ads are arguably the easiest to follow. There are no out of the ordinary ads disallowed on the platform, and its restrictive policies are the same standard rules applied across the social ad landscape.
The one area where Twitter distinguishes its policies from other platforms is by stating specifically that it prohibits ads promoting malware products and has restrictions around promotions for software downloads.
It’s worth noting that the ad content policies listed here for each of the platforms are as they stand now, but social platforms have a history of regularly changing their ad content policies. This has happened most notably during the past year and a half with political advertisements. Facebook has gone back and forth with its rules around cryptocurrency ads, totally banning the ads in January, 2018 and then reversing its policies six months later. It wasn’t until last year Facebook began implementing ad targeting restrictions for weapon accessory ads to users 18 years and older.
As ad policies change across platforms, Marketing Land will be sure to update our list.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.