By Brett Konen on June 17th, 2020
Best Practices for CBD Ad Approval on Facebook & Google
In a perfect world, most digital advertising campaigns for CBD (and otherwise) would leverage a balanced mix of paid search, paid social, and programmatic ads—the digital advertising trifecta—to achieve their campaign goals. In the real world, CBD brands are currently unable to rely on anything more than programmatic ads, but they should still try for ad approval on search and social platforms.
Here’s why that’s the case; what brands should know about doing so; how to improve your chances of search and social ad approval; and what to do if you’re unable to get your ads approved on either.
Can CBD Brands Advertise on Facebook & Google?
The foremost search and social advertising platforms (Google and Facebook) currently account for about 60 percent of digital advertising dollars spent in the US. Unfortunately, CBD advertisers account for a disproportionately small amount of those dollars—but they do account for some.
The trouble with both platforms is that they treat CBD as an illegal product, despite the fact that hemp-derived CBD was legalized with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. However, both platforms accept a small and specific subset of ads, as detailed below. Both platforms have also enforced their policies on CBD ads irregularly, resulting in the acceptance of some ads and the rejection of other comparable ones regardless of policy.
What’s Allowed on Facebook & Instagram?
Facebook’s advertising policies (as well as Instagram’s, since Instagram is owned by Facebook) on prohibited content include the following under 2. Illegal products or services: “Adverts must not constitute, facilitate or promote illegal products, services or activities. Adverts targeted to minors must not promote products, services or content that are inappropriate, illegal or unsafe, or that exploit, mislead or exert undue pressure on the age groups targeted.” Facebook has additional policies pertaining to drugs and to unsafe supplements, but in our experience CBD ads tend to be rejected under “illegal products or services.”
Despite the fact that CBD ads violate none of the above stipulations, Facebook continues to reject the vast majority of CBD ads, as HuffPost and others have reported. According to reporter Jesselyn Cook:
“CBD business owners have taken great care to obey the law as it has evolved, but have struggled immensely to understand and abide by the much stricter, more secretive and inconsistently enforced ad policies of tech platforms that act as gatekeepers to mainstream digital marketing. Facebook in particular makes no mention of CBD anywhere in its public ad guidelines, but it has an internal policy that specifically bans ads for CBD.”
Today, the only CBD ads Facebook will approve are ads for CBD topicals, a policy change that was made in 2019 (previously, topicals were banned too).
What’s Allowed on Google Ads?
Google’s policies state the following under Dangerous products or services: “We don't allow the promotion of some products or services that cause damage, harm, or injury. Below are some examples of products and services that we consider to be dangerous.” Under “Recreational drugs,” Google bans the following:
- Ads for substances that alter mental state for the purpose of recreation or otherwise induce "highs" (Examples: Cocaine, crystal meth, heroin and other illegal opioids, marijuana, cocaine substitutes, mephedrone, "legal highs")
- Ads for products or services marketed as facilitating recreational drug use (Examples: Pipes, bongs, cannabis coffee shops)
- Ads for instructional content about producing, purchasing, or using recreational drugs (Examples: Forums to exchange tips or recommendations on drug use)
Again, though hemp-derived CBD is legal and does not fit the definitions above, Google rejects all text search ads that refer to CBD.
What Google does allow are ads for hemp-derived CBD products that rely exclusively on hemp keywords.
What to Do If Your CBD Ads Are Rejected on Facebook & Google
If you’ve followed the guidelines above and your ads were still rejected, the problem may be the landing page your ads direct to. Per Digiday:
“Advertisers can run [Facebook] ads that direct to landing pages that feature ingestible hemp and topical CBD. But the ads cannot specifically feature those products. Facebook is still prohibiting ads for ingestible CBD, including ads that direct to landing pages with those products.”
In short, it’s not just the content of your ad creative that decides whether your ad will be approved—it’s also what’s on your website. The landing page matters because Facebook and Google’s ad approval processes are automated, meaning that your ad and the site it redirects to will be crawled by their bots in order to make an approval decision.
It’s important to note that due (at least partly) to the automation factor, even ads that do deserve approval based on Facebook and Google’s CBD advertising policies are often rejected regardless. As noted by Digiday, “Facebook consistently makes mistakes with flagging ads, and the ads still must abide by Facebook’s other advertising policies and community standards.”
If your ad was rejected, you can appeal that decision. Here are Facebook’s and Google’s guides to doing so. Note that although advertisers can request a review in cases where they believe their ads were wrongly rejected, often the ad is bounced back with the same decision in a matter of hours, without any additional information provided as to its rationale.
One more factor that adds to the irregular enforcement of these platforms’ ad policies is that often, when an ad review is requested, the task of confirming the automated decision falls to human moderators, many of whom seem to remain as confused about the platforms’ internal policies as advertisers themselves are. This is the point in the process where things tend to come down to pure luck: In some cases, ads that shouldn’t be approved occasionally are, while others that follow all available guidance may be rejected repeatedly.
How to Increase Your Chances of CBD Ad Approval on Google & Facebook
While the fact remains that there is ultimately no guarantee of approval on Facebook, Instagram, or Google regardless of the actual content of your ad creative or landing pages, we do recommend (and help our clients with) the following method for increasing your chances of approval on these platforms:
- Remove all CBD and hemp keywords from your ad creative, regardless of which ones the platform says they allow. Replace these words with euphemisms for what you’re selling, such as “natural plant-based remedies.” Submit the updated creative for review.
- If the campaign is rejected again, build a gated landing page specific to your campaign. The page should omit all references to CBD and hemp, but may include a CTA that links through to your website. Use this as the landing page for the campaign and resubmit.
- If the campaign is still not approved, remove all links to your website from the gated landing page to leave a stand-alone page with no connection to your main website. Again, no mention of CBD or hemp should me made (including in the URL, or anything else a bot would be able to crawl). Resubmit the campaign.
- If the campaign is approved, wait at least two days before reintroducing any links through to your website from the gated landing page.
- If your ads are rejected again, give up and move on. There are alternate options for advertising digitally (see the next section).
Keep in mind that attempting to secure ad approval involves some risk that the profile associated with your ad account could be deleted. While this doesn’t always happen, and can sometimes be reversed, we strongly recommend avoiding the possibility by running your ads through a separate advertising account. A smart way to do this (if you work with an advertising agency) is by leveraging your agency’s account: This not only circumvents the risk of profile deletion but may increase the likelihood of ad approval, particularly if the agency also supports mainstream clientele and has a frequent track record of past approval on unrelated campaigns.
Finally, even if you do secure approval on a given ad, there’s no guarantee that it won’t be flagged or removed later on, so avoid relying on these ads alone: Diversification is key. Luckily, even those CBD brands who have been consistently rejected on Facebook and Google can leverage programmatic—the third pillar of digital advertising for CBD.
What Should I Do If Facebook & Google Never Approve My CBD Ads?
If you’re completely unable to get your ads approved on Facebook, Google, or both, we recommend reallocating any digital advertising budget from those platforms to programmatic advertising campaigns. This third option, which represents the remaining 40 percent of the digital ad pool, is by far the most accepting of both cannabis and CBD ad buys. For more information on running digital ads using programmatic technology, see our white paper on digital advertising options for cannabis and CBD.