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Facebook special ad categories? What are they? Who is required to use them? And what restrictions does it cause for our Facebook and Instagram ads when we are using Facebook special ad categories? I’m going to answer all of those questions and show you how to use them. In This Article: 

  1. What is a Special Ad Category?
  2. How Facebook Defines: 
  3. Social Issues/Elections/Politics
  4. Credit Opportunity
  5. Employment
  6. Housing
  7. Where to find the Special Ad Category via Boosting a post, Ads Manager or Instagram
  8. Consequences of avoiding the Special Ad Category
  9. Why Do Special Ad Categories Exist?
  10. What targeting options are removed when using Special Ad Categories
  11. Strategy for how to work around the Special Ad Categories with retargeting

So What Is A Special Ad Category? 

Well, it’s an option that you absolutely must select when you’re creating your ads that Facebook deems as falling into one of these four categories:

  • Social issues, elections, or politics, (that’s one category)
  • Credit Opportunities
  • Employment
  • Housing

If You Are Creating Ads For Politics Or Elections 

When it comes to elections or politics, that encompasses: any type of ad that is for a candidate for public office, for a political figure, a political party advocate, advocates for the outcome of an election of public office, or any ads about the election referendum ballot initiative, including go out and vote election campaigns. 

So that is a pretty broad sweeping stroke of pretty much anything that falls under the umbrella of politics means that you fall under that special ad category. Now before we get into the rest of the ad categories, there are a couple extra little things that you need to do that us and the rest of the special ed categories don’t need to. 

If you’re going to run ads for politics, you have some extra checks and balances in place that you have to run through before you’re allowed to even use that category. That includes submitting your government ID to Facebook so that they can verify it, that process can take up to 24 hours or more, so give yourself some lead time. They’re also going to ask you for some more information about the organization that is paying for the ads because you’ll have to have tags and disclaimers added to those ads saying paid for by (organization name). And you will also have those ads entered into Facebook’s public ads library for seven years.

Ads For Social Issues

Social issues are sensitive topics that are heavily debated, may influence the outcome of an election or result in or relate to existing or proposed legislation. That includes ads about social issues that seek to influence public opinion, through discussion, debate or advocacy for or against important topics like health, civil rights and social issues. 

If you are running ads related to social issues, you will have to check off the special ad category for social issues, politics and elections. It’s all under that one umbrella. So yes, you will need to use that special ad category.

What Falls Into The Credit Opportunity Category? 

Credit includes credit card offers auto loans, personal or business loans, services, mortgage loans, and long term financing. It also includes brand ads for credit cards regardless of the specific offer.  

So if you are offering any type of opportunity for somebody to get access to credit, or loans of any kind, you need to use this special ad category.

Next Up: Employment Special Ad Category

If you’re offering full time jobs, part time jobs, internships, any type of professional certification program, running ads for job boards or job there’s ads detailing any types of perks. that are included with a company that or that a company may provide or, or any type of ad regardless of this specific job offer if it’s related to giving somebody a job, it falls under that special ad category of employment. 

And Lastly, The Housing Category

Housing is a hot, hotly debated topic. Real Estate if you’re a realtor, listen up. If you are a mortgage provider, listen up, you fall under this specialized category. This is anything related to listing the sale or rental of a home or apartment, homeowners insurance, mortgage insurance, mortgage loans, housing repairs, and home equity or appraisal services.

I often see real estate agents getting frustrated with the lack of targeting options with Special Ad Categories and trying to avoid using them. This has been mandatory and a requirement in the United States for quite some time now, but as of December 2020, it is now mandatory in Canada as well. This caught some real estate professionals off-guard with several of their ads getting rejected. 

If you are running ads for real estate listings, seller ads, buyer ads, or mortgage related ads, your ads DO fall into the Housing special ad category and you do need to have it selected when creating your ads. 

How To Select The Special Ad Category

Whether you are boosting a post, creating an ad using Facebook’s Ads Manager, or promoting a post on Instagram, you will have an option to turn on Special Ad Categories and then you can choose your category from there. You will not be prompted to do this and the slider/checkbox to turn it on can be easily missed. 

Watch this 2 minute video segment (starting at 00:43) for a step by step look:

Consequences of Avoiding The Special Ad Category

If you’re trying to run ads for social issues, elections or politics, credit, employment, or housing, then you fall under this umbrella of the special ad categories. You must check off the special ad category when you are creating your ads. Otherwise, you’re going to face ad rejections, possibly having your account shut down or having you restricted as an advertiser on the platform. We don’t want that to happen. Stay compliant, use the special ad category in the appropriate areas when you need to. And just be aware the responsibility is on you as an advertiser to use this now that we know what the special ed categories are. 

There are multiple levels of restrictions that you could be facing and consequences if you’re not using the special Add category when you’re required to. 

  • Ad Rejections
  • Ad Account Restrictions
  • Business Manager Disabled
  • Advertiser Restrictions

If you do not select the special ad category when you’re required to you can have your ads rejected. And if your ads continually get rejected, then you can have your ad account shut down. If you get your ad account shut down, you lose all that valuable, valuable data and ad history as well as access to your pixel that is probably collecting those high quality audiences of people for you. If that happens, you need to start a new ad account from scratch. You can also get your business manager account shut down and that is not good for anybody. And last but not least, you as an advertiser could get restricted. 

Want to read the pain and anguish of business owners who have had their accounts shut down? Just skim the comments on Mari Smith’s Facebook post for a sobering look at how difficult it is to deal with. 

If Your Ads Were Rejected

If you do have ads that are rejected, you can go and edit your ads, you can switch on the special ad category after the fact, and then you can resubmit your ads for approval. I would definitely encourage you to deal with the ads and not let them sit rejected.The quality of your ad account matters and ad rejections count against your account quality.

Why Do Special Ad Categories Even Exist?

What does that mean? What do they do? And why do they even exist in the first place? Well, let’s put it this way. Facebook advertising is very powerful when it comes to targeting. And with great power comes great responsibility. Facebook puts a lot of power in the hands of their advertisers. This could be used to be able to discriminate against certain groups of people, either intentionally or unintentionally. 

Whether it’s through age, gender, location, certain personal attributes, we don’t want to be able to discriminate against people by omitting them from ads that should be presented with equal opportunity to all.

In the past we could target ads to certain income levels, or demographics, certain neighbourhoods by zip code, for example, that is now gone when using Special Ad Categories. 

What targeting options are removed when using Special Ad Categories?

So now that you’ve got the special ad category checked off, it strips out a lot of the powerful targeting options in the back end of your Facebook ads and you will have to keep your ad targeting a lot more broad. 

Targeting by Zip or Postal Code

For example, some of the things that are stripped out when you use the specialized category: you can no longer target by zip code or postal code, that’s no longer an option with a special ad category checked off. If you’re going to target a geographic area, either by dropping a pin or targeting a city or region, you can only go as tight as a 15 mile radius, that’s the minimum that you need to use, whereas the rest of us without the specialized category can drill down as far as targeting a one mile radius, or target by zip code or postal code. 

Targeting by Age or Gender

Also, you no longer have the option to use age or gender targeting. So you can’t choose a specific age. Your ad will be served to people from 18 to 65 Plus, male, female and everyone else in between. 

Targeting by Behaviours, Interests, Job Titles

It greatly reduces the depth of detailed targeting that you have available to target by behaviors, interests, job title, it strips out so much of that targeting power in the back end of your Facebook ads, and just gives us a handful of really, really broad categories that we can choose from. So you can’t get too hyper targeted with your ads using the detailed targeting.

Using Audience Expansion 

Facebook’s Audience Expansion feature is also unavailable using the Special Ad Category. Typically when you set up your audience of who you would like to target, you can click on the audience expansion checkbox. Facebook will then take your targeting choices and serve your ads to even more people outside of your exact targeting choices who are similar to your criteria. If you don’t select audience expansion, Facebook is only going to focus on the people that you selected in your targeting for that ad. So that audience expansion feature is also unavailable. 

Lookalike Audiences

Lastly, this also impacts your Lookalike Audiences. Similar to audience expansion, Lookalike Audiences allow you to sample a percentage of the population of a country and choose a source audience (like your website visitors or email subscribers or purchasers). Facebook will then try to find even more people to serve your ads to who match similar traits and behaviours to your source audience.

Special Ad Audiences

Now, when we fall under a special ad category, we can’t use Lookalike audiences but we can create a “special ad category” audience. It is nearly identical to Lookalike Audiences but Facebook is not narrowing in on personal attributes to match similar people. 

Facebook Ads Strategy To Bypass Special Ad Categories

So how do we leverage the power of Facebook ad targeting while using the special ad category? Don’t worry, not all is lost. I know that if you’ve had the benefit of the power of using all of Facebook’s targeting features and now you’ve had most of that stripped away you probably want to throw your hands up in the air and say well then Facebook ads aren’t going to work for me anymore. They will. They can. And they can work even better for you because this is going to force you to start thinking strategically and really harnessing the power of remarketing and retargeting.  

When we’re using special ad categories, we are quite restricted. And I know some people if you are not used to using them, you’re going to throw your hands up in the air and say, well, then Facebook ads are useless. They’re not good for me anymore. 

WRONG. Facebook ads are still incredibly powerful. 

And there are some ways that you can really work around the special ad code categories and make it work in your favor. 

So let’s talk about the power of retargeting. 

This is where having a system and a strategy in place for your Facebook ads is going to save you in the long run, it’s also going to make your ads so much more effective and your audience is so much higher quality as time goes on. 

Imagine looking at your ad audiences in different categories: We have our cold audiences and our warm audiences. Keeping it simple. For example, warm audiences are people who are somewhat familiar with you or your brand and cold audiences are people who have never met you before. They don’t know you. They’re unfamiliar with you. It’s their very first impression, the first touch point of seeing your ads come into their newsfeed, it really is making that first introduction. That’s a cold audience. Cold audience examples are when we’re using that broad behavior and demographic targeting where we are quite restricted in our targeting by Facebook’s special ad categories.

 

How Do We Get Beyond The Broad Audience? Well, let me recommend a strategy for you. 

 

The secret is … drum roll please …

High quality content + retargeting.

 

If you put high quality content out in front of the right people that resonate with your brand with your product with your service, then those folks that are seeing that first touch point ad are going to engage with it. An engagement is a like, click, comment or share. They’re going to watch your videos past the three second mark past the 15-second mark, maybe even to full completion of that video view. 

Those activities that people are taking, whether they’re clicking, commenting, engaging, reacting, video views … all of those are activities that can then be retargeted. Once people you are reaching with your ads have taken an action, they can fall into a category of an audience of people that we can then retarget with ads later on. 

So by casting out a wide net and putting out high quality content to an extremely broad audience, and then capturing all of the people who are engaging with that content into a new fresh audience, we are now growing our WARM audience. 

See where I’m going with this? 

When you serve ads retargeting people who are now on our warm audience you already know they have shown interest in you. Wouldn’t you much rather spend your ad dollars on people who you know are interested instead of wasting more money marketing to a broad audience who doesn’t care?

We want to continue serving high quality content to our warm audiences by retargeting them with ads. So rather than spreading out all of your marketing budget and wasting it on so many people who may not be interested, create a strategy where you have a high level top of funnel campaign that is serving extremely broad content, but make sure it’s high quality content to attract the right people, and then invest a good amount of budget and time energy effort into creating content and serving content out to that warm audience of people who have already shown they’re interested by giving us those engagements, those clicks, those likes those reactions, those shares, that is going to help you foster and create and curate high quality audiences over time. 

The more you repeat the cycle, the more you take the time to work on your targeting and retargeting, the more success that you’re going to find with your Facebook ads. 

I work with advertisers who’ve been doing this since before special ad categories existed and doing this as a consistent strategy. When implemented well, this strategy gets business for the advertiser consistently vs the yo-yo effect of the cold audience advertisers. They’re casting the net as wide as they can and trying to make sales based on cold audiences.

It doesn’t work as effectively if you’re in e-commerce, if you have an item or a product that has very low low cost or commitment, and a very short sales cycle. But for those in real estate or with larger ticket items, this strategy works over time.

In Closing

So regardless if you are creating ads using ads manager, regardless if you’re boosting posts, or creating ads directly off of Instagram, if you fall under one of those special ad categories, if your ad content is related to any of those four special categories, you are required to select the special ad category and use that for your ads. Unfortunately, yes, it does strip out some of the targeting power. But you have the power of being strategic and leveraging strategy to your advantage to create higher quality audiences in the long run that are going to produce better returns for you. 

I am Amanda Robinson. I am The Digital Gal. And that was everything you need to know about special ad categories for Facebook and Instagram ads. Oh, that’s a lot of information to dump on you. If you do have questions about special ad categories, or more specifically, questions about how to create a strategy to help you still leverage the power of Facebook ad targeting, reach out to me and let’s talk! 

And if you want to learn more about Facebook ads to do Facebook ads for yourself, consider joining the 4 Week Facebook Ads Bootcamp. It runs several times a year. It’s a live training program where I teach you ads from the ground up including how to create your ads using Facebook Ads Manager, how to do your audiences and targeting, how work within your own budget, create your strategy (which is really going to help you with these special ad categories), and finally how to do your reporting and optimizing.