Googles Tobacco Advertising Policy: Smoke and Mirrors?
In the world of SEM, it seems inevitable that at one point or another, youll find yourself up against one of Googles countless AdWords advertising policies. Some policies are easy to work around. For example, one of our clients sells a product called WTF. Yes, thats right: WTF. This acronym just happens to be flagged under Googles Inappropriate Language editorial policy, which polices the many variations of inappropriate language. Fortunately for our client, WTF stands for Wake the Freak, so all we needed to do was shoot a quick email to our reps at Google explaining the situation and voila! ad approved. Other situations, however, are not so simple. And sometimes it seems that even when you find a way to play by Googles rules, trouble still finds you. Check out this blog I wrote a few months back about the mess AdWords pharmaceutical advertisers found themselves in with the FDA.
The good news is that, in many cases, advertising policies arent as rigid as they seem. There is usually a loophole, and with a little digging youll often find a way to play by the rules even if it seems like you have to bend them a little to do so.
We recently started investigating the ins and outs of another AdWords Policy Googles tobacco and cigarettes policy, which clearly stipulates, Dont promote tobacco and cigarettes. Why then, I wonder, when I search for buy cigars do I see this:
Because there is a loophole! Google permits the advertising of cigar accessories, although they will be approved as non-family safe ads. Read more about non-family safe ads here. Basically, there are certain sites that do not allow non-family safe content. Chances are that if youre selling cigars, you dont want to be on these sites anyway, so no big deal there.
So, as long as we dont use a CTA like Buy Cigars Here in our ad copy, weve found a way to advertise tobacco in spite of the seemingly inflexible aforementioned tobacco policy. But Googles tobacco advertising policy doesnt end with the ad copy it ends at the destination URL. In addition to not allowing the direct mention of cigar sales in ad copy, the landing page must not be focused on just selling cigars. Even though driving product-specific keywords to a product specific page is a best practice, the easiest solution would seem to be to drive all traffic to either a home page or an accessories page and let the visitor use the site search field to find what theyre looking for.
For example, lets say that Id like to buy an Arturo Fuente cigar for an upcoming celebration. Here is what I see when I search for Arturo Fuente cigars on Google:
Lets go through these a few of these ads to see where traffic is being driven (keeping in mind that I know the precise brand of cigar I want to purchase):
ThompsonCigar.com directs to the sites home page, where the search field is displayed prominently. So I enter Arturo Fuente and find that this store carries the brand Im looking for:
FamousSmokeShop.com directs traffic to a Humidors & Cigar accessories page, also with an easy to spot search field where I can continue in my quest for an Arturo Fuente:
Again, Ive found a robust collection of Arturo Fuentes. However, as a good SEM manager, Im simply not satisfied with sending product specific keywords to a general landing page since I know that making visitors do extra work to find what theyre looking for results in lower ROI for my clients. To illustrate, consider a similar scenario, but one that is uncomplicated by advertising policies. Lets say that Im searching for a Francesco Clemente print. I go to Google and search for Francesco Clemente prints and I see an ad from ArtRiver.com that seems to offer what Im looking for, and directs me to a page where I can view and purchase Clemente prints with no extra effort required:
If the ad were to instead direct me to ArtRivers home page, I may have taken one look and decided that Art River didnt have what I was searching for based on the imagery on the home page. Or maybe I would have decided that it would be easier to click the back button and select a different ad than searching through ArtRivers site.
Either way, its just not worth the chance of losing a potential customer by not delivering to them exactly what theyre looking for within one click of an ad.
This is where the tobacco policy loophole arises: Google does not allow ads to direct to a page just focused on purchasing cigars. A page selling cigars does not necessarily have to be focused on just selling cigars, though. Take the example of Tinderbox.com, which utilizes a we also recommend section on product pages. Check out the Arturo Fuente Hemingway Classic page, which is recommending various other cigars below the Hemingway Classic:
Because this page is dedicated only to selling cigars, Tinderbox would not be able to send ads to this page. However, a potential workaround may be to display cigar accessories in the we also recommend section rather than just cigars. This way, they are more likely to be in compliance with Googles tobacco advertising policy because the page would not be dedicated to just selling cigars. Semantics, in this case, may make all the difference.
The moral of the story: Googles advertising policies, while seemingly inflexible at first glance, often have plenty of loopholes. Sometimes all it takes is a little creativity!