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Google Changes Language, Being “Plus-Size” Or “Curvy” Isn’t A Negative Physical Attribute


Ad disapproval notices are typically uninteresting bland affairs, free of controversy. Last week, however, a disapproval notice from Google raised eyebrows.

WordStream received a disapproval notice for a Gmail ad — the ads looks similar to email messages and appear in the Promotions tab — in a campaign that used “curvy” and “plus size” keywords in the targeting. The disapproval reason given in the AdWords UI simply stated, “Gmail Ads- Body type and personality targeting”. It was the full policy explanation that the team received that caused a reaction (bolding is mine):


Disapproval Reason


Gmail Ads- Body type and personality targeting: Given the unique nature of Gmail ads and how users interact with these ads, we’ve developed an additional layer of policy requirements specific to Gmail ads. At this time, Gmail Advertising policy does not permit promotion of products and services that targets individuals with negative physical attributes such plus size, curvy. To run your ads, please remove any content related to body type and personality targeting from your ad or site.

Not surprising, the unfortunate language equating “negative physical attributes” with “plus size” and “curvy” struck a chord when WordStream blogged about it. (The company removed the blog post that day upon the advertiser’s request.)

Marketing Land asked Google about the language, and by Friday afternoon, a spokesperson notified us that the disapproval language had been updated to remove the word “negative” and explained,

“We have very specific policies on the types of ads we allow in Gmail.  The email our team sent to explain this was poorly worded and we’ve made changes to fix this moving forward.”

Language Changes, Restricted Content Stands

The main reason for the ad’s disapproval — body type targeting — remains in tact. Advertisers still cannot use promote content for “plus size” or “curvy” body types or even content promoting products to address “fine-lines” or “anti-wrinkle” creams. Ad targeting in Gmail, works differently than regular display and search advertising.

After two years in testing, Native Gmail ads came out of beta last September (they were previously called Gmail Sponsored Promotions). Many advertisers might not be aware of the long list of content restrictions on these ads due, Google says, to the “unique nature of Gmail as and how users interact with these ads”.

Sure, Google has tended to be more conservative than say Facebook and Twitter when it comes to privacy and ad targeting in light of legal challenges on multiple fronts. But advertisers might be surprised to see how long this list really is and how many types of companies are left out of the mix as a result, including plus size clothing retailers and anti-aging beauty brands and products. Most of the restrictions revolve around personally identifiable information — clothing size, how old you are, whether you’re going through a divorce.

Here’s the full list of content that cannot be promoted in Gmail ads, above and beyond what’s already restricted in AdWords:

  • Adult-oriented content
  • Adult dating
  • Alcohol and alcohol branded content
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Racial or ethnic information
  • Get rich quick
  • Politics
  • Cosmetic procedures
  • Medical services, including sale of medical devices
  • Gambling
  • Legal services relating to lawsuits
  • Body-type and personality-type targeting (Examples: anti-aging, fine-lines, anti-wrinkle, plus-sized, curvy, etc.)
  • Use of Google and Google services (directly or indirectly): Including but not limited to references to Google products, use of Google trademarks, screenshots, Google content, quotes from Google external communications, etc.
  • Health conditions and concerns: Products and services offering medicinal value for health conditions, or targeting users with health-related issues, including sexual health issues
  • Weight loss: Products and services promoting weight loss, including weight loss drugs, pills, and surgical or non-surgical procedures or treatments
  • Relationship support: Products and services for seeking or supporting relationships, including counseling, self-help (Example: “improve your marriage”)
  • Adoption: Products and services relating to child adoption, including those targeting parents who have adopted or are in the process of adopting. Blocked services and products may include legal services, books, support groups, agencies, services to find birth parents, etc. (Example: “adopt a child today”)
  • General legal services, family and criminal law: Products and services relating to child support, divorce, child custody, previous or current criminal activity, criminal records, lawsuits, post-incarceration, and other legal counseling (Example: “lowest cost divorce rates”)
  • Scare tactics: Content that attempts to scare or shock readers into opening the ad or clicking through to the landing page. (Example: “Buy this now to save your life”)
  • Substance abuse: Products and services such as rehabilitation centers, self-help media, and counseling intended for those with drug or alcohol substance abuse issues, as well as their friends and family (Example: “Want to stop drinking but can’t?”)
  • Funerals and bereavement: Products and services relating to death and the management of the deceased, including coffin sales, funeral homes, cremation, plot management, graveyards, counseling, etc. (Example: “family funeral planning”)
  • Suicide prevention: Products and services for those who may be contemplating suicide or have attempted to commit suicide, as well as their friends and family
  • Computer monitoring and spy software: Products and services that offer local and remote methods to spy on a computer via cloud, software, or hardware means (Example: “How to spy on a computer”)
  • Business security investigation: Solutions for the investigation of compromised security of both a software and physical nature (Example: “We can help find stolen data”)
  • Public records: Sources of public record data or retrieval of public records pertaining to a person or property, including age, location, political donation, criminal record, etc. (Example: “Free Public Record Search”)
  • Financial hardship/debt relief: Content relating to bad credit, debt, bankruptcy, foreclosure, auditing, payday loans, etc. (Example: “Debt Consolidation Loans”)
  • Spiritual abilities and guidance: Products and services relating to mysticism, psychic ability, magic, etc.
  • Other restrictive categories determined at Google’s sole discretion

On top of this list of, as Susan Waldes explains in her extensive Gmail Ads pimer on Marketing Land, “normal display options of Remarketing Audiences and ‘In Market Audiences’ are not available targets within Gmail Ads and likely will not be in the future, due to regulations around personally identifiable information related to email marketing”.

How Do PII Restrictions In Gmail Ad Stack Up Against Facebook?

In return for giving users a free email service, Google scans email content for ad targeting in Gmail. (Google faced legal action over the practice in 2014, but emerged with the scanning practice essentially unscathed. Just this week, Yahoo agreed to settle a class action suit over email scanning, but its scanning practice, too, will remain substantively unchanged.)

This type of scanning is not that unlike the type of data harvesting Facebook and other social networks do with social profile data. Like Gmail, however, Facebook also limits the use of personally identifiable information (PII) and attributes for ad targeting. Among Facebook ‘s Prohibited Content:

Content that asserts or implies personal attributes. This includes direct or indirect assertions or implications about a person’s race, ethnic origin, religion, beliefs, age, sexual orientation or practices, gender identity, disability, medical condition (including physical or mental health), financial status, membership in a trade union, criminal record, or name.

These are all fairly standard, and don’t go as far or in as much detail as Google’s limitations — there is no mention of body type. Ads in Facebook cannot refer specifically to a people’s personal attributes: “Find Other Black Singles” and “are You Christian?” are two examples the company gives for unacceptable ads. Instead, a matchmaking advertiser could target audiences with “Meet Black Men Today” and “Meet Christian Women”, the company says. So it’s not the targeting using PII, it’s making it obvious to the user that you’re doing so that’s not OK.

The ad from WordStream’s advertiser showed a plus size model and a savings offer. Sure, you can understand the creepy factor in Google knowing what size clothing you wear and we can talk all day long about privacy issues, but this raises an interesting question of whether, despite the language change, Google is essentially still saying something negative about a substantial percentage of consumers who buy plus size clothing and anti-wrinkle treatments: “We don’t want you to know that we know from your emails that you are likely to be interested these kinds of products”. Meanwhile advertisers are free to use similar targeting to reach these types of audiences through Google’s search and display ad channels — less personal digital environments.

Google declined to comment further on its Gmail ad restrictions when we asked.

In the WordStream case, the ad itself didn’t use the words “curvy” or “plus size”. It featured images of plus size model and the campaign targeted those types of keywords. Google seems to be saying that even without using the words in the ad, the image and targeting are enough to cross the PII line in inferring “it knows” a user’s body type.

via Marketing Land


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