Your Guide to The 4 Facebook Special Ad Categories

fb special ad categories - flyte new mediaWe all like to feel special from time to time. Whether it's receiving a compliment on your nails at the coffee shop or getting a free dessert at a restaurant on your birthday, it can feel good to stand out in the crowd. But there's a thin line between feeling special and feeling like you're being singled out.

Being categorized as special in Facebook ads can have its ups and downs. Facebook Special Ad Categories are specifically designed for businesses that offer products or services that are often associated with sensitive issues like housing, employment, or credit opportunities. While these categories are meant to protect users from discrimination or exclusion, they can also limit your ad design and Facebook audience targeting capabilities that are available to other Meta advertisers and make you feel like you're in the social media equivalent of a time-out.

Do you need to declare a special ad category for your business? Is there a way to avoid special ad categories? If you’re using special ad categories, how do you ensure your ads are still effectively reaching your target audience? We’ll cover all this and more in our guide to the four Facebook Special Ad Categories.

What Are Facebook Special Ad Categories?

For many businesses and organizations, Facebook and Instagram are invaluable tools for connecting and building loyalty with their audiences through paid or organic content. But it's important to remember that while Meta’s platforms have evolved to be great assets for businesses, they are built for individuals first. Meta’s (stated) priority is to fulfill the needs and meet the preferences of users–in other words, your potential customers. This has led to changes like updated privacy policies that impact businesses’ targeting and reach.

Special ad categories serve much the same purpose, placing regulations around certain advertisers and messaging to protect Meta’s users from discriminatory practices and manipulative advertising. If your business or organization meets certain criteria, you must declare your ad category at the building stage, which changes the ad set up and Facebook interest targeting available to you. Special ad categories were first introduced in 2019 but continue to evolve as Meta adapts to changing user expectations and local regulations.

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What Types of Businesses Need to Use Special Ad Categories?

More than 200 million businesses use Facebook and Instagram, which according to Statista, means about 89% of marketing teams are leveraging these platforms. And the types of businesses on these social media channels are incredibly diverse, from handmade furniture stores and luxury hotels to financial advisors and universities. Meta can be frustrating no matter what industry you’re in but most businesses will never need to worry about special ad categories.

However, the line between a regular ad and a special category ad isn’t always 100% clear. Meta also uses machines to evaluate advertisers and their content for special ad categories, which can sometimes mean nuances are lost or misinterpreted. Let’s dive into each type of Facebook special ad category and the potential businesses and industries that will need to use them.

1. Social Issue, Elections, or Political Ads 

This category is the newest addition to special ads. In the current climate, where political and social issues are more polarized than ever and misinformation can have a major impact on our elections, Meta has taken steps to ensure transparency and fairness in political and social issue advertising. This category includes ads that are made by, on behalf of, or about a candidate for public office, political parties, political action committees (PACs), or ads that advocate for or against political issues of national importance. This includes advertisements encouraging voter registration or poll turnout, even if it is unrelated to a specific candidate or ballot question.

fb special ad categories - flyte new mediaThese ads also encompass messaging for social issues, which Meta defines as “sensitive topics that are heavily debated, may influence the outcome of an election or result in/relate to existing or proposed legislation.” This includes topics like health, civil and social rights, climate change, and more.

SIEP is the broadest Facebook Special Ad Category and advertisers should carefully consider how their messaging may fit into Meta’s criteria. Industries and businesses may include:

  • Local Politicians
  • School Boards
  • Government Organizations
  • Non profits
  • Legal firms

Sometimes, your place in this special ad category can come as a surprise. For example, we recently worked with a university advertising degrees in environment professions. While their business has nothing to do with elections, Meta’s bots picked up on the use of the word “climate change,” in their ad copy and rejected the campaign for not declaring the appropriate special ads category. The solution: rework the messaging and resubmit for approval.

Luckily, targeting for these ads is minimally limited but some ad placements are not supported. These ads require advertisers to go through a verification process, disclose who is paying for the ad, and include a “Paid for by” disclaimer on the ad itself. The goal is to provide users with the context needed to evaluate the content and source of the ad, thereby reducing the spread of misinformation and manipulation.

Pro Tip: If you plan on running ads in the category, start the verification process at least 2 weeks in advance of your target launch date, as Meta will snail mail you a postcard with a code to verify your identity and you may need to visit a notary public.

2. Credit Opportunities

This category is designed for ads that offer credit services, including but not limited to credit card offers, car loans, personal loans, mortgages, and financing options for large purchases. The intention behind regulating this category is to prevent discrimination based on age, gender, race, ethnicity, or other sensitive criteria.

Advertisers in this category are restricted from targeting ads based on these demographics, as well as specific geographic detail finer than a 15-mile radius. This ensures that credit opportunities are presented in a fair and equitable manner to all users, regardless of their background. Below are some businesses that may use this category:

  • Banks and financial institutions
  • Auto dealers
  • Mortgage lenders and brokers
  • Credit counselors
  • Payday loan companies

3. Employment Opportunities

Employment ads fall into a special category due to the high risk of discrimination in hiring practices. This includes ads for job offers, recruitment services, internships, or programs designed for career advancement. The restrictions for employment ads are similar to those for credit opportunities, with advertisers being prohibited from targeting based on age, gender, race, and other protected characteristics. The goal is to create a level playing field where job opportunities are accessible to everyone, helping to foster a diverse and inclusive workforce.

These ads are not limited to particular types of businesses but are based on the ad content itself. In short, if you’re looking to hire someone through Meta Ads, you’ll need to use this special ad category.

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4. Housing & Related Services

Ads that promote or offer housing, housing-related services, or real estate opportunities are also classified under a special category. This encompasses rental listings, home sales, mortgage loans, housing assistance programs, and home-related services such as appraisals and insurance.

The regulation of housing ads is crucial to prevent discriminatory practices that could exclude individuals or families from housing opportunities based on their race, age, gender, family status, or other protected characteristics. Like the other categories, targeting capabilities are limited to ensure these ads reach a broad and diverse audience.

  • Rental Companies
  • Property Management
  • Real Estate Agencies
  • Realtors
  • Nursing Homes & Assisted Living Facilities
  • Home Insurance Companies
  • Home Builder or Developers
  • Housing Assistance Nonprofits

Getting Around Facebook Special Ad Categories

Special ad categories exist for a reason–to protect your customers. But you don’t always need to declare a category to run your ads. The key is to be smart, not sneaky. Businesses that typically fall under Facebook's Special Ad Categories can still run ads without directly triggering the specific restrictions of these categories, provided they approach their advertising content carefully and ethically.

For example, a nursing home would typically fall under the Housing Opportunities category. But by carefully curating their ad content, they can run regular Meta Ads, allowing them to target based on important audience demographics like age. They might highlight excellent staff, show off community activities, feature testimonials, or provide educational content about the process of transitioning to a care facility. Consider these loyalty and engagement building tactics that don’t point directly to a housing application.

Bonus: Requesting a Review of a Rejected Ad

Since Meta doesn’t reveal all its secrets to advertisers, it will take time and experience to develop an understanding of these special ad categories and how they impact your advertising strategy. And with any testing, you’re bound to bump into some problems, in this case rejected ads.

While you should avoid repeated violations (your account could be restricted from advertising at all) the occasional rejected ad can help you better grasp Meta’s standards and triggers. When an ad is rejected, you’ll receive an email notification and be provided with reasons for its rejection. Review the policies, edit your ad or create a new one and submit it for review in your Business Support Home page.

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It's crucial for businesses to approach their special ad strategy with transparency and integrity, ensuring that the ads don’t inadvertently mislead or imply the restricted services. Additionally, you should get in the habit of reviewing Meta's advertising policies regularly, as they are subject to change, and to consider consulting with digital marketing professionals, like the team at flyte new media, to navigate the complexities of advertising within these guidelines.

Expert Quote - Izzy Siedman

Izzy joins flyte after moving to Portland in 2020, a city that is affably similar to her beloved Burlington, Vermont, with the added benefit of ocean air and fresh seafood. With a degree in English and a background in the nonprofit sector, she carries a curiosity for all things communications. From social media and email newsletters to website management and SEO, Izzy is involved. Reach out to Izzy today!