Sharp-eyed Facebook users, or anyone whose favourite pastimes include wearing grid-lined glasses and staring at computer screens, will have noticed a change in the adverts they have been seeing on the platform over the last few weeks. The 20% text rule, one of Facebook’s most well-known advertising restrictions, is no more, having been replaced with a gradient system where having more text results in less delivery.
A History Lesson
The 20% text rule was perhaps not anyone’s favourite, being both creatively restrictive, and often unreliable. The only way of testing images before uploading them was to use one of the many grid tools which divided the image into a series of boxes, and then check off any squares containing text. Tick too many, and your ad would be disapproved.
Or that was the theory. In reality, things would sometimes slide through that shouldn’t have, or, more frustratingly, the system would be overly harsh with the disapprovals. This meant advertisers or their agency teams would come back after the weekend to find that activity had been disapproved without any warning or notice. Adding to this was that every ad would initially be approved, and then reviewed properly later, so having ads live for a few hours was no guarantee they would remain so.
For all its flaws, though, it was easy to understand why Facebook had such a rule in place. Newsfeed ads are intrusive by nature, and having too many garish images plastered with SALE SALESALEwould be overly disruptive, and, frankly, cheap looking. Facebook’s value and draw as an advertising platform comes from the breadth and scale of its user base. Drive them away with features they don’t like, and the whole thing comes tumbling down. It’s just as all-round wise guy Tony Montana said. Except it’s actually the exact opposite of that, and I personally have never found Facebook advertising a good way to meet women. But maybe that’s just my settings. In any case, the message to advertisers was clear: your content needs to be of a certain creative standard to fit in on the platform.
Facebook recently announced a change in the way text in ad images go through approval. In this POV, we explore the difference between the old rule, where ads would be disapproved if they contained more than 20% text in the image, and the new one, where ads will not be disapproved outright, but instead have their delivery restricted based on a sliding scale of the percentage of text in the ads.
I said certain’, not ‘high’.
So why change it? A cynical reader (or writer, for that matter) might be tempted to think that by allowing more ads to pass through review, Facebook is simply making a quick and easy grab for sweet, sweet ad dollar. That will likely be an effect, but the golden rule of not annoying your user base still holds. Facebook has a strong history of testing new features and only progressing with them if they land well with customers and advertisers. It’s not impossible that Facebook will withdraw the feature in the future, but the fact that they are rolling it out at scale now suggests either that users’ tastes have changed, or that they weren’t as averse to text in images as previously thought.
A Leap Into the Unknown
Let’s take a look at how the new rule works. Rather than a black and white approval or disapproval, there is now more of a sliding scale, where more text results in less and less delivery, until eventually it will not be shown. The new traffic light system groups images into four categories, as seen here:
Facebook’s preferred amount of text remains zero; so far, so familiar. But the one thing missing from this guide is any indication of how much text you are allowed to have percentage-wise before you will incur penalties, or not be shown at all. Facebook also seem to have deleted their official grid tool, so how can you know you won’t be affected until it’s too late?
With some shrewd Googling, and thisalternate tool, I’ve made a list of what percentages fall into what categories based on the examples Facebook provide above:
The ‘TL;DR’ Edit
The limitations of the new system become more obvious once it’s laid out in this way. Not only is the above an estimate based on my judgement and the limited examples Facebook provides, but there is also no concrete definition of what the penalty is. Is it higher CPMs, or a reduction in effective audience size? Will you even be effected at all if delivery “may” be limited? We don’t know, and Facebook don’t seem particularly keen on giving anything away, either. It now also appears that having any text at all will incur a penalty, whereas before there was no difference in having a clear image, or 20% text.
Not only is it hard to tell what the penalty is, but pre-screening images has now become impossible because of the lack of clear guidelines around where the percentage boundaries lie. This will likely push advertisers in one of two directions: either they will press ahead with suboptimal images and incur the penalty, having their opinion of Facebook’s effectiveness impacted because they are not told how they are being penalised or how much they have to change assets to avoid this, or they play safe, and stick to the no-text assets Facebook always seemed to want.
When this new rule was first announced, many of us thought it would bring increased freedom, and an end to the back and forth required to get up and running on the platform. In actual fact, what we are faced with now is a vagueness that effectively forces us to be more restrictive to be sure of avoiding any penalty. I will miss the clarity of the former rule, and my own recommendation to stick to as little text as possible will not be changing in light of this update.
So does this new rule tick the right boxes for advertisers? I suppose that depends on whether you value ease over performance. Personally, I suspect that the former 20% text rule will be remembered with a little more fondness from now on.