Twitter, Facebook, Google adjust COVID-19 ad policies on the fly
From Facebook and Google to Twitter and Snapchat, the largest internet advertising companies are racing to keep up with new issues surfacing from the coronavirus pandemic, as many of the problems that already existed in the digital ad space—fake news, spam marketers and more—have been heightened by the crisis.
Meanwhile, measures to avoid coronavirus topics in ads are starting to frustrate even legitimate advertisers trying to get the word out about their companies’ efforts through automated platforms like Google Ads. The internet companies are shifting their rules in real-time to accommodate at least some of these advertisers. Last week, Twitter and Google both loosened rules against mentioning coronavirus for some marketers. Twitter made an update, saying it would allow some brands, including Uber, Starbucks and UPS, to promote tweets that reference the virus.
“It’s a shift that we’re making from an ads policy perspective because we believe that the messaging that brands and businesses can provide to the world and provide to consumers are going to be positively received,” said Sarah Personette, head of Twitter client solutions. “And they’re going to be positively received because they are talking about what they as brands and businesses are doing themselves in the face of this crisis, and also what their employees and customers need to understand or be informed about in the face of this crisis.”
Twitter still has policies that will regulate who is allowed to advertise with mentions of the pandemic and how they can discuss it. Twitter says only “managed clients” can mention coronavirus, which means only brands with a direct relationship with the company's ads team can run these types of promoted tweets. Those advertisers can mention coronavirus in two manners: To promote how business practices have changed to adapt to coronavirus or to show support for employees and customers, Twitter's new guidelines say.
“COVID and the coronavirus are happening in real time in society today,” Personette said. “And we want to make sure that they can scale and share these messages in the most brand-safe way possible."
At the start of the coronavirus panic, the initial instinct by the internet companies was to block advertisers from even mentioning coronavirus or COVID-19, which Twitter had done in early March. Facebook and Google implemented similar bans on ads that promoted miracle cures and home medical equipment like face masks and hand sanitizer at inflated prices. Snapchat, which has been seen as mostly immune from the worst abuses prevalent on rival apps, nevertheless is open to potentially nefarious advertisers promoting products like face masks.
On Google Ads, which delivers internet advertising to millions of websites, some media buyers say the system has given them problems. For instance, Great Harvest Bread Company, comprising independently operated bakeries around the country, was blocked by Google’s ad filters.
Eric Keshin, who is familiar to Madison Avenue as the former chief operating officer at McCann Worldwide in the early 2000s, is the president and principal at Great Harvest Franchising. Keshin manages the marketing strategy for the franchises and says Google blocked a major ad push by the company. Many of the company’s ads have been in limbo since early March, unable to get approval to run.
“This is the problem with Google,” Keshin says. “There’s a glitch, and they’re not approving the ads the way they’re supposed to be approving ads to run.”
Google is recalibrating its ad policies on the fly. Last week, Google was considering a policy reversal to allow political ads that mention coronavirus, and suggested the looser rules could apply to more advertisers, according to Bloomberg News. “COVID-19 is becoming an important part of everyday conversation, including a relevant topic in political discourse,” a Google spokesperson told Bloomberg News. “We’re planning to allow more advertisers to run ads related to COVID-19.”
As of Tuesday, Google was still enforcing strict policies that prohibit politicians and political groups from messaging around the virus, while still allowing groups like the World Health Organization to promote public service announcements about it. Google was still working on policies that could allow more advertising related to coronavirus from brands and others.
Facebook also has been adjusting ad policies. Last week, the social network told advertisers they can’t set goals of sending people to stores, a popular ad targeting option, to comply with the new quarantine norms.
“We’re watching use cases of all of our products to ensure that people are not getting misleading or inaccurate information, to the best of our ability,” Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s VP of global marketing solutions, said in an interview with Ad Age last week.