Facebook Special Ad Categories and Special Ad Audiences

Facebook continues to face scrutiny involving privacy, discrimination, fake news, and more. In response to this, changes continue to roll out with the goals of preventing abuse by advertisers, protecting the users, and protecting themselves.

Some of those recent changes have included:

  • The introduction of the ads library to enhance advertiser transparency

  • Not allowing the editing of link previews in organic posts

  • Removal of targeting options including 3rd party data providers

  • No longer being able to see audience reach estimates for custom audiences

  • Advertisers accepting agreements stating they are using customer data lawfully

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Special Ad Categories

One of the most recent changes Facebook has implemented is the introduction of Special Ad Categories.

When setting up a new campaign, you’ll see a new checkbox stating “I’m creating a campaign for ads in a Special Ad Category.”

If you are running ads for credit, housing, or employment promotions in the US, you must check the box in order to do so.

We first saw this pop up in our account in September 2019. I went to add to new creatives in an existing campaign that immediately got disapproved. They were flagged for falling into the Special Ad Categories of employment. 

Here is more information on each category directly from Facebook:

The 'Quick Creation' tab on Facebook Ads.


Credit Opportunity

Ads that promote or directly link to a credit opportunity, including but not limited to credit card offers, auto loans, personal or business loan services, mortgage loans and long-term financing. This also includes brand ads for credit cards that include a specific credit offer.


Employment Opportunity

Ads that promote or directly link to an employment opportunity, including but not limited to part- or full-time jobs, internships or professional certification programs. Related ads that fall within this category include promotions for job boards or fairs, aggregation services or ads detailing perks a company may provide, regardless of a specific job offer.


Housing Opportunity or Related Service

Ads that promote or directly link to a housing opportunity or related service, including but not limited to listings for the sale or rental of a home or apartment, homeowners insurance, mortgage insurance, mortgage loans and home equity or appraisal services. You can include the Equal Opportunity Housing logo and slogan to help differentiate your ads as non-discriminatory.


Note: This is not a comprehensive list of examples and does not constitute legal advice.

(source: https://www.facebook.com/business/help/298000447747885)


June 2020 Update

As of June 2020, the list of special ads categories grew to include social issues, elections, or politics.

Special Ad Categories in Facebook Ads.

Facebook Special Ad Category: Social Issues, Elections or Politics.


“Ads made by, on behalf of, or about a candidate for public office, a political figure, a political party or advocates for the outcome of an election to public office. Or, about any election, referendum, or ballot initiative, including "go out and vote" election campaigns. Ads regulated as political advertising. About social issues in any place where the ad is being placed.

Social issues are sensitive topics that are heavily debated, may influence the outcome of an election or result in/relate to existing or proposed legislation. Ads about social issues seek to influence public opinion through discussion, debate or advocacy for or against important topics, like health and civil and social rights.“


Limitations of Special Ad Categories

The reason this new compliance requirement exists is to make sure advertisers are not unlawfully discriminating when it comes to credit, employment, or housing, ads. 

When running ads that fall under this new rule, the following options are not available:

  • Age - This will default to 18-65+ and can’t be edited.
  • Gender - This can’t be edited, all genders must be included.
  • Zip Codes - All location targeting options are available besides zip code. If you select specific locations, they will include a minimum of a 15-mile radius.
  • Detailed Targeting - Most demographic, behavior, and interest options aren’t available. You can only pick from a predetermined list of interests that are all very broad. You can not exclude any detailed targeting.
  • Saved Audiences - No saved audiences can be used.
  • Lookalike Audiences - These are replaced with the new Special Ads Audience option (more on those below).

The 'Confirm Changes' screen in Facebook Ads.

Settings for Special Ad Category: Employment.

While these are more limited, remember that Facebook naturally is trying to serve your ads to the people who make the most sense, and are most likely to take the action you are optimizing for.

This means it’s important that your Facebook Pixel is set up properly. Facebook needs to be fed correct information so it can optimize based on that data. The more information you give Facebook, the more accurately it will serve your ads to the right people, so you end up with better results.


How This Affects Your Ad Account

This is not an account-wide change. Checking the Special Ad Categories box on a campaign will only limit that specific campaign and will not have an affect on any other campaigns. 

For example, if you have one campaign that is promoting a job opportunity and other campaigns selling a product or service, those can continue to run as is.


Special Ad Audiences vs Lookalike Audiences

Since Facebook will not let you use Lookalike Audiences in these campaigns, they came up with a new option to replace them called Special Ad Audiences.

In essence, these are the same general principle and set up as a Lookalike Audience, but the information Facebook uses to create those audiences are different. They won’t take into account all the information they have in creating the new audiences.

Facebook describes it as “It's like Lookalike audiences, but adjusted to comply with the audience selection restrictions associated with your campaign's chosen Special Ad Category and our ad policies.” (source: https://www.facebook.com/business/help/2220749868045706)

That means that Facebook has most likely eliminated age, gender, zip codes, and some detailed targeting in creating these audiences.

The big question is, how will these work in comparison to the Lookalike Audiences? I didn’t have high hopes, as I assumed they would be a less-powerful version of Lookalike Audiences.

I’ve been running a test of the new Special Ad Audiences vs the existing Lookalike Audiences using the same creative in each. So far I’ve actually found the SAAs performing better with a lower CPA than the previously running LaLs.

Screenshot of Campaign data.

*Campaign and Ad Set names have been changed. The 1, 2, and 3 in each group represent the audiences that were closely related for direct comparisons.


How to Set Up Special Ad Audiences

Special Ad Audiences are not currently an option in the Audience Manager of your Business Account.

The only way to create them right now is through the campaign creation process. When you’ve checked the Special Ad Category box at the campaign level, you will have the option to create a Special Ad Audience at the ad set targeting level.

Under Custom Audiences, select Create New -> Special Ad Audience

The Special Ad Audience selection on the Create New Audience screen.

From there, the set up process is the exact same as creating a Lookalike Audience. You select the source audience, location, and percentage of population.

The 'Create a Special Ad Audience' settings screen.

These will now be available to select from the Special Ad Audience dropdown in future campaigns.

Special Ad Audience settings.


Getting Creative with Special Ad Categories

Within Special Ad Categories campaigns, you can still use custom audiences. They can be used in both targeting and exclusions. 

If the new limitations of Special Ad Categories aren’t performing well, you can try some different strategies. 

One potential workaround would be to use your targeting that works well to drive to a page that doesn’t fall under the restriction. For example, instead of driving traffic to a job page, you could send traffic to a content page that is an industry guide. You could then retarget those website visitors with the regular ad creative and landing page in a compliant campaign.


When Does This Change Take Effect?

If you currently have ads running that fall under this category, they should still be able to run for a while. They haven’t released a date when all the existing ads will need to be compliant, but that will surely be coming soon.

Start a new campaign now that is compliant with the new rules to test how they will perform. This will give you some time to figure out what works to transition your existing campaigns nicely. If you don’t do this, you can expect whatever you currently have running will stop abruptly if they aren’t transitioned.

You also don’t need to make a new campaign. If preferred, you can check the box on existing campaigns. Just be aware that this will automatically stop any ad sets using lookalike audiences, or any of the other targeting options that aren’t allowed. 



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