Facebook Unrolls New Targeting Limitations For Special Categories

As digital advertisers, we have become acutely aware of the advertising platforms’ policies. Whether we’ve done our due diligence and learned these policies on our own or we were forced to learn them when we received that “disapproval” message from the platform. Either way, we ultimately abide by Google, Bing, and Facebook’s prescribed advertising policies.

But are we abiding by federal laws? Are our advertising platforms’ policies following the laws proscribed by the US government? Not always, it seems. You may recall back in March when we were hit with news headlines of the Federal Housing Department slamming Facebook with a discrimination lawsuit, following months of collaboration with the social media giant to develop HUD compliant advertising policies. 

HUD’s claim was that Facebook violates the 1968 Fair Housing Act by allowing advertisers that use the platform to target and exclude individuals based on protected categories such as religion, color, gender, age, etc. And…well…they weren’t wrong. Facebook allowed us to target individuals based on nearly any personal attribute we desired, regardless of the industry we worked in. But that has now changed. Following this lawsuit, Facebook announced that it would be rolling out changes to targeting for housing, employment, and credit vendors “later this year.” As of July 1st, “later” has come.

On July 1st, Facebook rolled out its new targeting limitations to employment, housing, and credit advertisers. While we knew this was coming, the date was unannounced. But if these new changes came as a shock to you, rest assured – the changes aren’t as big as they seem.

So what are the changes?

You’ll first notice the changes when you begin the creation of a new campaign or make edits at the campaign level. At this point, you will see a new box under the title insertion section that asks you to identify yourself as employment, housing, or credit advertiser.

Facebook Special Ad Category

Upon selecting this “Special Ad Category” checkbox, you are then greeted with some vague information about the new limitations you are subject to and asked to categorize the campaign as either employment, housing, or credit.

Facebook Special Ad Targeting Info
Facebook special ad category selector

At this point, Facebook, instead of asking you to follow non-discriminatory policies and just hoping that you will (as they have done in the past), takes away your ability to target individuals based on personal attributes. This includes all of the obvious categories such as gender, age, color, etc. but also expands to some items you may not necessarily think are discriminatory, such as zip codes. Below is a list of items that you will no longer see as options on the ad set targeting level and some alternatives to them:

New Facebook Targeting Limitations

  • Zip Code Targeting
    • The ability to target or exclude individuals based on the zip code they live in is no longer available. 
    • Alternatively – you can still utilize radius targeting. Note, however, that Facebook requires a 15-mile radius minimum around the city, address, or pin drop that you indicate in your targeted locations settings.
  • Age & Gender Targeting
    • Instead of the usual selectors for age and gender, these items now appear as fixed settings.
Facebook age targeting
  • Detailed Targeting Features
    • As Facebook alluded to in their initial information box at the campaign level, detailed targeting options are now limited. What they didn’t mention were which ones. At the ad set level, we now find that all demographic and behavior targeting options are gone. Leaving us with only interest targeting options. 
Facebook detailed targeting
Non-Special Ad Category Options
Facebook special category detailed targeting
New Special Af Category Options
  • Saved Audiences
    • Facebook has removed our access to any saved audiences. This is designed to prevent the use of any previously created audiences that may include discriminatory targeting.
  • Look-a-Like Audiences
    • Facebook no longer allows for the creation of look-a-like audiences, as they utilize demographic data of a businesses’ current customers, website visitors, etc. to identify similar audiences, effectively discriminating against certain people based on demographics. If you haven’t been using look-a-like audiences and are unsure of what they are, read this article to find out more!
    • Alternative – Luckily, not all hope is lost for our beloved similar-to audiences. With the removal of look-a-like audiences, Facebook unveiled a slightly different custom audience for Special Ad Categories called…“Special Ad Audiences” (creative, right?). This audience operates in the same fashion as look-a-likes, only instead of using demographic data to build similar audiences, they utilize interest and internet behavior. Essentially, Facebook analyzes current customer interests and internet patterns to identify individuals with similar interests and behaviors to target.
Facebook special ad audience

And that’s it! Not too bad, right? These limitations may seem overwhelming and drastic at first, but overall they don’t appear to be too detrimental. Unless you are an advertiser in one the specialized categories and have never considered the implications of certain targeting options, chances are you’ve already adapted your targeting to be more inclusive and probably won’t need to overhaul your Facebook strategy anytime soon. 

On that final note, when can we expect Facebook to start enforcing these policies? Clearly, with such a sudden appearance of these changes in the interface, advertisers need some time to get their ducks in a row and actually make the required changes before Facebook begins dinging non-compliant advertisers. While Facebook has not given us a definitive deadline, we’ve been told that late August is when we can expect Facebook to really start cracking down. So hurry and become Fair Housing complaint, you have about a month left!

See author Kamlyn Spivey speak at Hero Conf London
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