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Facebook’s inconsistent advertising policy for small bra and lingerie retailers

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Harper Wilde, a startup that sells basic cheap bras, has been advertising on Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram since it launched its retailer about a year ago. As a result, the company was surprised when it suddenly deleted all the ads in July. According to an email from Fortune magazine, Facebook told Harper Wilder that these ads violated the advertising policy prohibiting nudity and sexuality.

The retailer said that its ads have not changed, and none of them is particularly sexy. One of them has a bra on the lavender background, while the other shows women wearing the product.

Facebook rejected an advertisement from Harper Wilde and used this nude photo to get a lavender background. Photo courtesy of Harper Wilde.
“This is frustrating for us because everything our company represents is disinfecting this product,” said Harper Wilde co-founder Jenna Kerner. “This is the most basic commodity for women, like a razor or a mattress. It’s frustrating to see an outdated view with a bra on a colored background.”

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A Facebook spokesperson said in an email that Harper Wilde’s ad was removed because it linked to a landing page containing nude art, which violated the company’s advertising policy for “adult content.” They stated that Facebook’s advertising policy does not allow excessively visible skin or cleavage or images to be focused on any individual’s body parts, even if there is no clear sexual behavior.

Harper Wilde is not the first bra manufacturer to say it has been unfairly attacked by social networks. Berlei Australia and Curvy Kate also opposed ads that were banned in the past. The question of how Facebook regulates advertising – and whether it will make the process consistent and transparent – has also been problematic in other industries. Take cryptocurrencies and “initial coin products” (a way to raise money using cryptocurrencies): Facebook banned the promotion of both ads in January, but overturned the overall ban only a few months later. Instead, the company said it would decide the ad on a case-by-case basis and pointed out that “qualification may be subject to conditions and restrictions that Facebook may decide.”

This seems to be the same as the company’s fuzzy standard for managing ads like Harper Wilde. Advertising bras are technically allowed, but companies can’t determine if their ads will escape the “adult content” tag. However, some in the industry say that Facebook generated $39.9 billion in advertising revenue in 2017 and it seems unlikely that it will ban large companies from advertising.

Heidi Zak, co-founder and co-CEO of ThirdLove, said that as her business grew and she began investing more in Facebook and Instagram ads, she faced fewer obstacles in getting approval for advertising.

The Facebook representative told Fortune magazine that “all ads are reviewed in the same way, whether they are advertisers or smaller advertisers.”

Zach said Facebook should reconsider its approach to advertising such as bras. “Many of them are data-driven; no one is sitting in the ad now,” she said. “But for this type of topic, a more personalized interaction with the content is needed.”

Harper Wilde’s Kerner agrees that Facebook needs to think more carefully about what these ads actually represent. “When it comes to supporting women or getting women to get the products they need every day, it’s frustrating to see Facebook pushing the boundaries of so many things,” she said.

And not only the basic problems of women will encounter problems. Jeff White, the company’s chief financial officer and chief financial officer who led LGBTQ + men’s underwear, said by email that he saw the same inconsistency between the company’s ads submitted to Facebook and Instagram. “Even with very specific targeting and very conservative images and language, we may only approve 50% of the ads,” he said. White added that about half of those approved were stopped in the middle of advertising campaigns. The company also completely terminated one of its advertising accounts.

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