How to Handle Special Ad Categories

Nov 3, 2021

In early 2020, Facebook rolled out a new designation for some ads: Special Ad Categories. They did this in an effort to prevent discriminatory practices in a handful of industries, including housing, credit, and job opportunities.

So, if you're in real estate and want to advertise your services and/or a specific listing you have, you have to check the Special Ad Categories box, which will reduce the number of targeting options available to you. A pain, for sure, but well-worth it to stay within the good graces of Facebook's regulations.

What Are The Limits?

If you're creating a campaign within a Special Ad Category, you can't use the following criteria to build your audience:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • ZIP code
  • Excluding audiences (i.e. "don't show my ad to this group...")
  • Demographics
  • Behaviors
  • Lookalike audiences

What Criteria Can You Use Instead?

Even though you can't use the above to build your ad set, you can still use these targeting options to define your audience:

  • Location (via pin drop, and a surrounding radius)
  • Interests (some may be unavailable)
  • Custom Audiences
  • Special Ad Audiences

...and that's about it.

How Do Custom Audiences & Special Ad Audiences Work?

You'll notice "Custom Audiences" and "Special Ad Audiences" under the allowable criteria. Each deserves a closer look, because they're where most of the targeting creativity happens within a Special Ad Category.

Custom Audiences help you advertise to people who have interacted with your business (think subscribers to your email list, or visitors to your website.) Facebook does allow you to use Custom Audiences even with a Special Ad Category, but you can't import an audience that has been segmented by one of the restricted criteria. (In other words — if your email list was specifically created to limit the age range, that would be breaking Facebook's rules.)

Special Ad Audiences, on the other hand, are a little different:

A Special Ad Audience is similar to a Lookalike audience because it uses online behavior similarities from the people in your source to form a new audience. However, a Special Ad Audience is adjusted to comply with the audience selection restrictions associated with your campaign's chosen Special Ad Category. It won’t use targeting information such as age and gender, or certain demographics, behaviors or interests.

So, a Custom Audience is a source you can point to, and say, "Yes! These are our people. We want to reach them," while a Special Ad Audience uses a source that you define, and then spits out a whole new audience, similar to that source. Neither violates the rules of the Special Ad Category.

Why Is Creative So Important?

As you can see, while there are still a handful of ways to target people under a Special Ad Category, you have considerably less power to reach your desired audience than you would under a non-Special Ad Category campaign. That means your ad creative is more important than ever.

If you're talking to someone about doing social ads for you, and they're not primarily discussing  ad creative, they're focused on the wrong thing. There's only so much you can do on the targeting side — it's the creative that can set you apart, and it's what we focus on at O'Kane Marketing. So, if you're considering doing social ads, we'd love to hear from you!

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