How To Promote Prohibited Products Online
Growing your ecommerce business is a challenge in any circumstance. It’s even more difficult when the products you sell fall under the list of items that are “prohibited” or “restricted” on most digital advertising platforms.
Just because something is prohibited by the policies of sites like Facebook, Instagram, Google, YouTube, and more does not mean they are “bad” or that the platform views them that way. Often, it affects products and services that have legitimate and valuable uses, but also have the potential to be abused or misused in a way that is potentially harmful.
In fact, the restriction often has little to do with the product itself – in many cases it’s about the platform’s users. Platforms understand that people can be vulnerable in times of hardship like illness and injury, financial troubles, and relationship issues. So to protect their users and communities, platforms put restrictions on advertising certain products to keep people comfortable and happy with being a part of that site.
Fortunately, outright bans are less common than restrictions, and while those big behemoth platforms may be dominant, they aren’t the only ones out there. Marketing and selling your prohibited products online can be challenging, but it is possible! We’ll show you the way.
Here is a rundown of common rules and restrictions, plus tips and advice for your ecommerce strategy.
Prohibited vs. Restricted Products - What’s the Difference?
Saying that a product is prohibited or restricted are two very different things. Prohibited refers to anything that has been explicitly forbidden or banned. On the other hand, restricted products are controlled items that require special processing or license verification to sell. In other words, restricted items have specific conditions that they must follow in order to be sold.
What Products Are Prohibited & Restricted?
Major platforms such as Facebook & Instagram, Google & YouTube Ads, Google Shopping, LinkedIn, Microsoft/Bing, and Amazon each have a list of products that are prohibited or restricted for sale on their sites. These lists are found under the advertising policy section on their websites along with other helpful information about advertising your products. It is important to do a lot of research when it comes to advertising because it can be hurtful to your business if you do not know all the different policies and could potentially get you banned from these platforms.
You Can’t Sell That On...
Facebook & Instagram
Facebook and Instagram are quite strict when it comes to ad content, but they can be a big asset when promoting your business so knowing what you can and cannot do is important. Almost everyone has a Facebook and scrolls through it at least once per day so putting ads up on their site will get you a lot of exposure leading to potential growth.
Prohibited Products on Facebook and Instagram:
- Illegal products or services
- Tobacco and related products
- Unsafe Substances, Weapons, Ammunition, or Explosives
- Adult Products or Services
- Adult Content
Restricted Products on Facebook & Instagram:
- Alcohol – you must comply with all applicable local laws, required or established industry codes, guidelines, licenses, and approvals, and include age and country targeting criteria consistent with Facebook’s targeting requirements and applicable local laws
- Promotion of over-the-counter drugs – you must comply with applicable local laws, required or established industry codes, guidelines, licenses, and approvals.
- Subscription Services – you must follow subscription service policies through Facebook
- Financial and Insurance Products and Services – must provide sufficient disclosure regarding associated fees. Including APR percentages, transaction fees, interest rates, and the physical address of the entity offering the product within the ads landing page. Target people 18+
- Branded Content – you must tag the featured third party and use the branded content tool.
Google & YouTube Ads
Google and YouTube Ads give a basic description of what is prohibited and restricted on their ads policy page. It is easy to understand but do not let that fool you, you have to do some further research to find more details and see specific examples of what is not allowed on their site.
Here is a list of what is prohibited on Google & YouTube Ads:
- Counterfeit Goods
- Dangerous Products or Services
- Enabling Dishonest Behavior
- Inappropriate Content
Here is a list of what is restricted:
- Sexual content
- Healthcare and medicine
- Political content
- Financial services
Google Shopping aims to enable businesses to promote a wide variety of products, but some google products and platforms may not be optimized to appropriately support all content types. Google shopping lays everything out very clearly and gives plenty of examples of what is not allowed to be sold on their site. They also give solutions to things you can do if you were wrongfully accused of breaking policy. On some of these items there are exceptions to the rule of certain things you can sell through their platform for example the sale of motor or sail powered vehicles is not allowed but the exceptions to that rule are something like a motor-powered bicycle that has a max speed of 15mph or less.
A list of unsupported shopping content:
- Ticket Sales
- Financial Products
- Immovable Property
A list of prohibited content for Google shopping:
- Counterfeit goods
- Dangerous Products
- Products that enable dishonest behavior
- Inappropriate content
- Unsupported Shopping Ads content
Using LinkedIn Ads is a wonderful way to advertise directly to your target audience depending on what products you’re selling. Everything is laid out in their advertising policies on their website.
A list of what is prohibited on LinkedIn:
- Illegal products, services, and activities
- Tobacco Products
- Weapons, fireworks, and other violent products or services
- Adult content
A list of what is restricted on LinkedIn:
- Alcohol – ads only available in certain countries
- Animal products – LinkedIn reserves the right to restrict these ads. Ads for endangered species are prohibited.
- Dating services – cannot be targeted at anyone under 18. Services must be legal and must not engage in “escort type” services
- Soliciting funds – must comply with laws and would qualify as tax deductible or charitable in the applicable jurisdiction.
Microsoft/Bing is another great platform to use for your advertisements for many people, Bing is their primary search engine, so you have the opportunity to get a lot of exposure with this site. Their ads policy page lists products and services that are not allowed and/or restricted. It is a pretty basic list so I would do some more digging to be sure what exactly you can and cannot do.
A list of prohibited/restricted products for Microsoft/Bing Advertising:
- Drugs and related paraphernalia
- Fireworks and explosives
- Tobacco and Electronic cigarettes
- Weapons, knives, firearms, and ammunition
Amazon is another huge platform that can be greatly beneficial for your business to advertise on. It is estimated that around 197 million people use amazon so the chances of your ad being seen are remarkably high. That is why it is important to know what you can and cannot do.
A list of restricted/prohibited products on Amazon:
- Animals and animal related products
- Automotive and powersports
- Dietary supplements
- Drugs and drug paraphernalia
What Can Merchants of Prohibited & Restricted Products Do Instead?
Just because you can’t advertise your product on these social media sites does not mean you’re out of options. There are many ways you can get people to know about your products and what you’re all about. It is up to you as a business owner to determine if your products are restricted or prohibited and take the right action in response. You should focus extra time into researching ways that you can legally sell your products that are restricted or prohibited.
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What Merchants Shouldn’t Do
Do not get caught up in the fact that you saw someone else do it. Just because they did it does not mean you should. Eventually the ones breaking these rules will be penalized for their actions.
If you do try to go around the rules you risk getting banned and once you are banned it is almost impossible to rejoin those sites even if you stop advertising prohibited and restricted products, once you get caught these sites most likely flag your business.
What Merchants *Should* Do
As previously stated, seek legal advice from a legal professional. This will ensure that you are following all the correct procedures when advertising your products.
Check your federal, state, and local laws. Make sure that your product complies with the law depending on the restricted/ prohibited product you are selling, you may have to get permission to sell in various states and be careful not to sell in prohibited regions.
Check regulations for your hosting site. Before you choose an e-commerce site for your business make sure you’re allowed to sell your merchandise on that site. Many have a list of products you cannot sell on their platforms.