We live in a world of constraints. You’re not allowed to park in certain places, you shouldn’t litter in the park, and you can’t shout ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theatre.

And these constraints help us keep the space we share reasonably pleasant.

Digital constraints

Some of these constraints are carried over into the digital realm as well. AdWords rejects certain words, LinkedIn won’t approve copy with unusual abbreviations, and Facebook limits how much text you can have in a promoted post photo to 20%.

And we live with all of these restrictions, as they too make our digital common space a more pleasant place to be. 

Lately, however, I’ve seen a number of clear violations of the last one, the 20% text rule on Facebook, and so I decided to test out the limits.

A bit of background

As anyone who has promoted a post on Facebook knows, there are restrictions about to what you are allowed to promote.  

You can post anything you like (that’s not obscene) but when you go to promote you’re under much tighter restictions. In the promoted post photos, you can’t include product discounts, contact details, or information about products that are disallowed (like guns).

And, you cannot have text in more than 20% of your ad. Yes, even for unpublished posts.

What does that mean?

Well, have a look at my example for a Job Coach radio spot.

I tried to promote this in 2013, but it was rejected. Why?  Well, I was told to check it using the Facebook Grid Tool, a self-service tool which lets you see what percentage of text you have in your photo.

Facebook’s Grid Tool

How does it work? You simply upload your photo and the tool puts it in a grid.  

You then you click on boxes which have text and the tool tells you whether or not you should expect it to be approved for an ad.

 When I did so, I could clearly see that I used more than 20%.  And, as expected, it was not approved when I tried to promote it.

So I reformatted my ad, uploaded it again, and ran the test on the new visual.

 And it was approved. I wasn’t thrilled about the photo, but at least I knew what the constraints were.

But now…

Now fast-forward to July, 2014 and suddenly I’m seeing all sorts of ads in the News Feed which are loaded with text. Surely a mistake I think.


Testing the text percentage boundaries

So I decide to push the boundaries slightly. One of my clients is recruiting IT staff and I wanted the ad to look like one of those inspirational quotes that are so often shared.

I uploaded it and did the 20% test. Uh-oh, it looks like a clear violation.

But then, lo and behold it was approved  and ran for over a week in the News Feed unhindered by its high text percentage content.

Well I presumed I got lucky. I couldn’t find any info about Facebook changing the rules and even heard about the 20% restriction once again on the Social Media Examiner podcast this week. So I decided to experiment further.

Testing even more text

The next attempt was an ad for an ambitious salesperson. Again, perfect for one of those inspirational slogans that tend to be shared on Facebook.

I used a photo which had huge text so that it could be read well even on mobile.  I tested in the tool and got almost 50% text coverage.

Then I uploaded it and…


Approved! In the News Feed!

Going the whole hog

Well now my adrenaline was flowing and I decided that it was time to see if Facebook was checking the text percentage at all any more.

 I took the original ad that had 36% text, deleted the guy that was in it, and enlarged the text so that it was in 100% of the boxes.

And checked in the text tool.  Yup 100%.

I then uploaded it and waited patiently…

Approved!  We are now at full 100% text on Facebook ads.

So what?

So, now what, ding-dong the 20% text rule is dead? I think so. I’ve repeated this many times and, to stretch the metaphor, Facebook has not dropped a house on me yet.

But, I’m not sure the 20% rule really meant that much anyway.  I mean it did allow the ads to blend in better with the News Feed, but I don’t think people care about that any more. Both consumers and brands now know that Facebook is a platform which integrates ads with your personal content.  And it seems to be OK with everyone.

But in another way, it is worrying that Facebook is now so concerned about revenue that it us letting standards drop, even if just by a little. And one wonders what is next?

But for now I encourage all of those who were tied to the 20% text tool to now try your luck with more text, and let us know the results!