Facebook Drops Age, Residency, and Industry (Tobacco, Gambling, Dairy) Prohibitions on Promotions

Facebook updated its promotions guidelines this week, and has now confirmed that it no longer blanket-prohibits promotions (including give-aways) for tobacco, dairy, gambling, firearms, prescription drugs, and gasoline.

Promoters must still comply with restrictions in the juridictions where the promotions are held, but Facebook has dropped its site-wide restrictions that were originally designed to preserve local laws. Marketers can also require a purchase for entry, and target those below age 18 or who live in certain countries such as India and Norway.

The change could lead big brands in the now-unrestricted industries to step up their marketing efforts on Facebook, drawing spend away from more traditional marketing mediums such as TV and print. It will also allow all marketers more flexibility in promotion targeting and rules.

Until May 11th, Facebook’s promotions guidelines included the statements:

  1. You will not communicate about or administer a promotion on Facebook if:

  1. The promotion is open or marketed to individuals who are under the age of 18;
  2. The promotion is open to individuals who reside in a country embargoed by the United States;
  3. The promotion, if a sweepstakes, is open to individuals residing in Belgium, Norway, Sweden, or India;
  4. The promotion’s objective is to promote any of the following product categories: gambling, tobacco, firearms, prescription drugs, or gasoline;
  5. The prize or any part of the prize includes alcohol, tobacco, dairy, firearms, or prescription drugs; or
  6. The promotion is a sweepstakes that conditions entry upon the purchase of a product, completion of a lengthy task, or other form of consideration.

Today, Facebook wrote that it removed these specific prohibitions to simplify the “promotions guidelines to make them easier to understand and consistent with the format of other Facebook Terms & Policies.” This does not make these kinds of promotions or sweepstakes legal — it merely means Facebook will differ to local laws rather than enforce its own. Over the last year, the company has been striving to simplify its governing documents, including its privacy policy

Facebook announced in December 2009 that it planned to ease restrictions on dairy promotions, and now it has made good on its promise. This week’s update also added stipulations regarding how disclosures of responsibility must be made in promotions, and restrictions against the use of the Like button as a voting mechanism.

Some states prohibit the promotion of the previously restricted products types to protect the public or key industries. Some companies such as Starbucks appear to have skirted these restrictions in the past ,perhaps through selective targeting and fine print. For example, Starbucks rapidly grew the Like count of its Facebook Page by giving away free ice cream. Rather than add an additional layer of legal complexity, Facebook is now leaving it up to marketers to run their promotions in ways that don’t violate local laws, such as restricting entry to residents of states without restrictions.

The United States lottery law prohibits some contests where purchases are required to enter, but now these types of promotions can be run through Facebook in countries without such laws. States or countries that don’t prohibit contest entry for minors can now be targeted with Facebook promotions as well.

Promotions have become core component of brand presence on Facebook. By offering a prize or experience, brands can draw users to Like their Pages and share branded links with friends. However, shifting guidelines and gray areas have created some confusion in the industry about what is or isn’t compliant with policy. This simplification of the guidelines should make things more clear to some, but it could also be misinterpreted to mean these types of promotions are legal when they violate local laws.

For deep analysis of Facebook’s promotion guidelines and terms of service, as well as weekly profiles of innovative marketing campaigns, visit the Facebook Marketing Bible, Inside Network’s comprehensive guide to marketing through Facebook.

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