Google is dropping its commission fees for retailers selling their products using the Buy on Google platform.

The company announced the decision late last week, while also revealing that it would be adding integration for third-party services like Shopify and PayPal to make using the platform easier than ever. 

For now, the commission-free program is starting with a pilot test which will be expanded to all U.S. retailers by early 2021. 

Why It Matters

When paired with Google’s recent decision to include free product listings in search results, it is clear that the search engine is hoping to make it convenient and easy for businesses to transition to online sales. 

The decision also gives Google a leg up on many other online sales services, such as Amazon. The massive name in online shopping typically charges retailers between 8% to 15% in fees per item sold. 

With the ongoing wave of COVID-19 infections occurring across America, the removal of fees could open the door to an alternate revenue stream for many small businesses that are struggling at the moment. 

Focus on Small Businesses

Speaking of small businesses, Google will also be adding a filter to the Google Shopping tab which will allow shoppers to specifically buy from SMBs. 

“While we still have much work ahead of us, our goal is to make digital commerce more accessible for retailers of all sizes all around the world, giving consumers more choice and more ways to find the best products, stores, and prices,” Bill Ready, Google’s president of commerce, said in the announcement

Brands around the world can now easily advertise on one of the fastest growing social networks, as TikTok announced this week it is rolling out its new self-serve advertising service to all. 

With the new service, advertisers in every country can create and publish their own ads without the need for contacting a representative or signing a contract.

In the announcement, Blake Chandlee, Vice President of Global Business Solutions for the company said:

“TikTok’s immersive, short-form videos give businesses a platform to participate and engage with a community known for its creativity, ingenuity, and joy. As our marketing solutions scale and evolve, we’re continuously building for the future and aiming to meet the growing needs of our partners. We’re excited to continue supporting our community by providing the tools and resources for SMB owners to navigate these challenging times.”

The service includes built-in tools for creative, targeting, and flexible budgeting. In the future, the company says it will also be creating business accounts which provide access to more in-depth tools. For now, details are limited on when this might occur or what the tools may offer.

What TikTok Has To Offer Brands

Although TikTok has been around for a few years now, brands have been slow to show interest in the platform for a variety of reasons. Like Snapchat, TikTok’s users have tended to be younger and thus had little to no disposable income. 

Over the past two years, however, that has changed. 

TikTok has exploded in users, especially within the highly desirable over-25 age group. Even more interesting, analysis suggests that TikTok users have money to burn. More than a quarter (37%) of users have a combined household income over $100,000.

Back to Business Ad Credits

At the same time TikTok announced its ad service, the company also revealed a new initiative to give $100 million in advertising credits to small businesses who may have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Interested users can apply in the Business portal.

What Ads Are Available

Currently, TikTok offers five different types of ads for brands. They range from the standard post-type ads which can appear in the “For You” area of the app to branded hashtags and image effects. 

The ads currently available include:

TopView Ads – Up to 60 second long video ads which appear immediately as a user opens TikTok.

Brand Takeovers – Shorter video or image ads which function similarly to TopView Ads but are only shown for up to 5 seconds. 

In-Feed Ads – Traditional ad units which appear for up to 60 seconds and function like standard posts, including the ability to comment and share.

Branded Hashtag Challenges – Want to take over a specific hashtag? Here’s your place. The ad unit allows you to create a unique aggregated feed of user content all related to a single branded hashtag for up to 6 days.

Branded Effects – In a challenge to Snapchat’s Lenses, TikTok is introducing a number of camera effects, filters, and stickers users can apply on their own pictures and videos.

What is the California Consumer Privacy Act?

The CCPA or California Consumer Privacy Act is a law recently enacted in California which extends privacy protections for residents.

While the act is big news for those living within California, many of us outside the state had not heard about the law until it recently went into effect. 

Specifically, the law requires businesses to disclose what personal information they collect and how that information will be used in relatively clear language. The CCPA also requires businesses to provide easily accessible ways to opt-out of having their information collected. 

Lastly, the law provides for Californian citizens to ask for the data which a company has collected on that person, what it has been used for, and have that information deleted upon request. 

Does The Law Apply To You?

The bad news about the law is that it does not only apply to businesses based in California. It can be applied to any businesses collecting or selling data of Californians. 

The good news is that the CCPA provides for exceptions for smaller businesses who do not primarily collect or sell data. To be affected by the law, your business must:

  • Earn more than $25 million per year.
  • Collect data on more than 50,000 persons.
  • Make more than half of its revenue from the sale of personal data.

What is unclear is how this will apply to the number of social networks based in California who sell targeted both inside and outside California. 

How Facebook and Instagram are Responding

Facebook (which owns Instagram and operates a large portion of Instagram’s advertising) has announced a new feature which automatically limits the data used to target ads – especially those targeted to Californians.

The Limited Data Use flag acts as a pixel to control how Californians’ personal information is collected and used. This means businesses can easily implement the flag for campaigns targeted in the state. 

To allow time for businesses to implement the flag, the company is automatically limiting data for a limited time on all events in California by default.

A growing number of brands are hitting pause on their Facebook ads for the month of July as part of the Stop Hate for Profit boycott. 

The advertisers, including some of the biggest brands on earth like Coca-Cola, Pfizer, and Unilever, are part of a movement which argues that Facebook has been allowing hate speech, racism, and violence run rampant while the company has also “turned a blind eye toward voter suppression on the platform.”

Who Is Involved

Currently, more than 500 companies are taking part in the boycott. For the exhaustive list of brands, check out this spreadsheet which is being updated as more brands join in.

Here are many of the most recognizable brands involved in the boycott:

  • Acura
  • Adidas
  • Artlogic
  • Ben & Jerry’s
  • Best Buy
  • Birchbox
  • Boston University
  • Campbell Soup Co.
  • Chobani
  • CityAdvisor
  • CLIF BAR
  • Clorox
  • Coca-Cola
  • CVS
  • Dashlane
  • Denny’s
  • Dockers
  • Dunkin’ Donuts
  • Eddie Bauer
  • Ford Motor Company
  • Fossil
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Henkel
  • Herschel Supply Co.
  • Honda Motor Company
  • HP
  • J.M. Smucker Co.
  • Kay Jewelers
  • LEGO
  • Levi Strauss
  • Lululemon
  • Magnolia Pictures
  • Mars, Inc.
  • Merck
  • Merrell
  • Microsoft
  • Mike’s Hard Lemonade
  • Mozilla
  • OBEY
  • Patagonia
  • Patreon
  • Pepsi
  • Pfizer
  • Pop Sockets
  • PUMA
  • Reebok
  • Siemans
  • Six Flags
  • Starbucks
  • Target
  • The North Face
  • UnileverUSA
  • Vans
  • Verizon
  • Volkswagon
  • White Castle
  • Wingstop
  • Zoe’s Kitchen

Facebook’s Response

In response to the boycott and increasing pubic pressure, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a statement promising to make significant changes to how content is handled on the platform, such as:

  • Providing voting information and helping register people to vote
  • Preventing “new forms of potential voter suppression.”
  • Banning “any content that misleads people on when or how they can vote,” including removing “false claims about polling conditions in the 72 hours leading into election day.”
  • Preventing voter intimidation on the platform
  • Rejecting ads which include “claims that people from a specific race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity, or immigration status are a threat to the physical safety, health, or survival of others.”
  • Labeling content from public figures which would typically violate content policies. 
  • Removing content, regardless of the source, “if we determine that content may lead to violence or deprive people of their right to vote.”

In the statement, Zuckerberg emphasized that the company was attempting to balance “public health and racial justice while maintaining or democratic traditions around free expression and voting.”

So far, the public seems to feel this response is too little and vaguely worded. Since the release of the statement, at least two hundred companies have joined the boycott.

Google is launching a new way to promote your brand with smart campaigns in Google Maps called Promoted Pins – and they are free for advertisers through September. 

Until the end of September 2020, advertisers running smart campaigns who also have a GMB listing will not be charged for any clicks, calls, or sales generated from these pins. 

Promoted pins help showcase specific or unique services your business offers, like curbside service, delivery, or pickup. 

“Every month, over 1 billion people use Google Maps to see what’s around them, search for businesses, and find directions. Promoted pins on Google Maps help your business stand out during these moments by displaying a prominent, square-shaped Google Maps pin.”

The company says the decision to make the ad unit free came from wanting to help small businesses get back on their feet after the nation-wide lockdowns. 

Promoted pins have already started rolling out to smart campaign advertisers and should be fully available within the next few weeks.

Google released a few sneaky updates to their advertising policies which could have a dramatic impact on many advertisers in the near future.

Among the announcements are new regulations which allow the platform to pause ad accounts under investigation and significant revisions to its Misrepresentations policy.

Pausing Ad Accounts

While giving an update about plans to verify advertisers on the platform, Google included a statement suggesting they may pause accounts believed to be breaking rules.

As the statement says:

“We may temporarily pause accounts to conduct investigations if we identify potentially harmful advertiser behavior. Paused accounts cannot run any ads.”

While this is in line with Google’s past policies, the surprising addition is a note that the company will take the same action for ad accounts which do not complete the identity verification process after it rolls out.

Changes To The Misrepresentation Policy

Another big change to Google’s ad policies is an extension to what types of ads are blocked for “misrepresentation.”

Beginning in July, these policies will be amended to include a “Clickbait Ads” policy which intends to prevent ads from using sensationalized imagery or text which is purposely vague to drive engagement.

Specifically, Google says it will block ads including these types of clickbait text or imagery:

  • Claims of secret or scandal revelations
  • Language that implies the click will give context (i.e. “click here to find out” or other similar phrases)
  • Imagery featuring altered body parts, mugshots and disaster photos
  • Before and after imagery of the human body

Additionally, the company will block ads using negative life events to evoke emotion, such as:

  • Ads related to potentially traumatic events like accidents, illnesses, bankruptcy, arrests, and more.
  • Ads using imagery to provoke extreme emotions like fear or shock.

What This Means For You

The result of these announcements is relatively limited to a few specific industries – specifically those which provide support or solutions during major negative life events. Under the new rules, ads for bail bonds, diet pills, funeral services, and even law firms will be very tricky – if not outright impossible – to run.

Additionally, the announcement that Google will pause ad accounts which are not verified or are under investigation ups the stakes for failing play by Google’s rules.

Following the appearance of COVID-19 in America in March, Facebook put in place a number of restrictions which entirely banned the sale of face masks. Now, as most states are reopening and chances of a medical supply shortage are lessening, the company is relaxing some of these rules on non-medical face masks.

Why Non-Medical Face Masks

While medical professions are still seeing a limited supply of face masks, demand for KN95 or other medical-grade masks has fallen. Instead, many are opting for cloth coverings which are considered acceptable by many health experts. 

This has created an increased demand for these non-medical face masks while reducing the overall demand for non-medical masks. 

Medical Masks Vs. Non-Medical Masks

Under these newly relaxed guidelines, advertisers can now start selling non-medical masks. According to facebook, these include masks which are:

  • Non-medical grade
  • Not promoted with medical or health claims
  • Handmade or fabric masks
  • Designed to be reusable
  • Made of refashioned materials

Phased In Restrictions

To prevent a tidal wave of advertisers all trying to sell face masks en mass or an increase in bad actors, Facebook is lifting the ban in phases. For now, advertisers wishing to promote their masks will have to meet a few specific requirements:

  • Advertisers must be in good standing with Facebook ads, having no violations or disabled ads due to policy violations
  • Ad accounts must have an advertising history of at least 4 months. This means those who created an ad account a year ago but have not used it would not be eligible, while those who have been running ads for at least 4 months will be. 
  • Ad accounts cannot be from a country with unusually high rates of ad policy violations for selling masks during the bad, including Cameroon, China, Indonesia, Israel, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, and Vietnam.

What Can Be In The Ads

Additionally, Facebook is still mandating a few restrictions to ensure that advertisers only promote non-medical masks. 

For instance, absolutely no medical or health claims can be made in the ad, including the mention of disease prevention or protection of the respiratory system. 

Any mention of community benefits of wearing masks can not include health mentions or overstate the benefits of masks.

To give an idea what this looks like in practice, Facebook provided an example in their policy guidance:

“‘We’ve pivoted our business to making masks to help keep our community healthy’ would be allowed, but stating ‘We’re stopping the spread of COVID-19 by making masks’ would not be allowed.”

Facebook Policy

Notably, while Facebook is reducing the restrictions on masks, they are still banning ads promoting hand sanitizers, surface wipes, COVID-19 test kits, and other related medical products.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Google has been rapidly releasing new tools to assist shoppers looking for contactless pick-up options, delivery, and keep consumers up-to-date on frequently changing business hours or closings and openings. 

Now, the company has released a way for retailers to easily signal that they provide curbside pickup for products appearing in Local Inventory Ads. 

Delivery Is Overwhelmed, Consumers Shift To Pickup Options

With many stores across the country closed, many shoppers quickly turned to online retailers like Amazon to find their necessities and enjoyment during quarantine. Unfortunately, this led to shipping being massively overwhelmed, creating delays of up to a month for any product deemed “non-essential.”

Google says this situation directly contributed to a 70% global increase of searches for “in-stock” products within just one week from March 28 to April 4 and has continued to be an important search query for shoppers. 

While the company doesn’t provide specific data, it also suggests that searches for “curbside pickup” have been elevated since late March. 

How To Add Curbside Pickup To Local Inventory Ads

To help advertisers alert customers to alternative pickup or delivery options, Google has implemented a new label for products shown in Local Inventory Ads available with curbside delivery. 

The label is a small but significant badge for many shoppers, even as businesses reopen across the country. 

Although technically still in beta, Google announced it was opening the badge to all advertisers running Local Inventory Ads who have completed the process of onboarding for store pickup. 

Because it is still in beta, accessing the feature also requires a few unique steps. Specifically, advertisers must contact a Google Ads rep or fill out this form.

The new tag is available to all eligible advertisers anywhere Local Inventory Ads have been launched, including Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the U.S.

If you do not fit the criteria for this feature or are not utilizing Local Inventory Ads, the company notes that you can still use your Google My Business profile to notify shoppers to curbside pickup or delivery options by adding these attributes to your listing. 

Google announced recently that it is requiring advertisers to provide documentation of their identity and geographic location to be eligible to run ads on the platform.

The new policy is an expansion of similar restrictions put in place in 2018 requiring the advertisers behind political ads to provide identification verification.

How Advertisers Verify Their Identity

Google is rolling out the new policy in phases and will be selecting certain advertisers to verify themselves first. Specifically, Google says it will prioritize those who do the following across its Ad Network:

  • Promotion of products, goods, and services.
    • Examples: Retail, media and entertainment, travel, B2B, technology, etc.
  • Promotion of informational, advisory, or educational content.
    • Examples: Content promoting educational resources, research and statistics, free health or financial advice, charitable or social causes, etc.
  • Promotion of content related to regulated industries.
    • Examples: Gambling and games, financial products or services, healthcare products or services etc.

If selected, an advertiser will be required to provide documentation to verify their identity within 30 days. Accepted documentation will include:

  • Personal identification methods
  • Business incorporation documents
  • Possibly other items to verify who they are
  • Operating geography

If documentation is not provided within the 30 day limit, all ads will be stopped until the issue is resolved.

Google also says it will begin the program in the United States before rolling out globally. The new requirements will apply to every aspect of Google’s multi-faceted advertising platform, including Search, Display, and YouTube ads.

Currently, the company expects that it will take a few years to fully implement the program.

Notably, the information currently available suggests that Google is specifically focusing on the individuals or companies running the ads, not necessarily the individual managing the ads. This means your ad agency will likely be asked to verify your identity on your behalf.

New Disclosures For Ads

Part of the reason Google is requiring this information, is that it is beginning to add new disclosures about the identity of advertisers when displaying paid ads.

The disclosures are available below the “Why this ad?” option when clicking for more details.

The disclosure will include information about the advertisers’ name, country location, and will provide an option to stop showing ads from that advertiser.

Why Is Google Doing This?

As the company explained in its announcement, the new program is part of a larger effort to “provide greater transparency and equip users with more information about who is advertising to them.”

Director of Product Management for Ads Integrity, Jack Canfield, elaborated by saying:

“This change will make it easier for people to understand who the advertiser is behind the ads they see from Google and help them make more informed decisions when using our advertising controls. It will also help support the health of the digital advertising ecosystem by detecting bad actors and limiting their attempts to misrepresent themselves.”

For more information, read Google’s announcement here or explore their additional guidance on the program here.

Over the past two weeks, several of the largest online ad platforms have taken swift steps to address problems with advertisers attempting to profit by stoking fears during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Google Ads, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, and YouTube have all responded in unique ways to stop the flow of misinformation, prevent profiteering, and provide new resources to protect public health.

Google Ads Blocks Advertisers Capitalizing on Crisis

This week, Google Ads updated its Inappropriate Content policy to specifically disallow content which:

“…potentially capitalizes on or lacks reasonable sensitivity towards a natural disaster, conflict, death, public health emergency, or other tragic event.”

The new regulation specifically cites price gouging, selling essential supplies that are in high demand but scarcely available, or ads that use sensitive keywords to manipulate their click-through rate.

For more details about which strategies to avoid and what keywords to be careful about using during this time, check out the full help page Google Ads has created for advertisers.

Google and Bing Block COVID-related Ads

Initially, Google had introduced a policy which entirely disallowed advertising products or services related to coronavirus across the entire platform. However, recent reports suggest they have internally revised this policy to make an exception for trusted organizations like hospitals, medical providers, or other major organizations attempting to provide reliable information to the public.

The search engine is also blocking the sale of face masks on its ad platform, following similar policies from Facebook.

Bing has taken similar steps by blocking all ads related to COVID-19, except those coming from trusted sources.

As a Microsoft spokesperson explained:

“Microsoft Advertising has taken precautionary measures to block ads for delivery related directly to COVID-19 under the Microsoft Advertising Sensitive advertising policy. This precaution also applies to some COVID-19 related medical supplies. We will only allow Public Service Announcements from trusted sources, such as official Govt. agencies, to promote COVID-19 content.”

Facebook and Instagram Block COVID-19 Ads, Create New Resources

Since March, both Facebook Ads and Instagram have been blocking the sale of face masks on their platforms. The policy has since been expanded to include hand sanitizer, surface disinfecting wipes, and COVID-19 testing for children.

At the same time, Facebook has created several new resources for both businesses and the general public, many of which can be found in the new “Marketing for Uncertain Times” deck which contains industry playbooks and general advice for staying informed.

Twitter Gives Advertisers Leeway

After originally banning any and all ads which mentioned “coronavirus” or “COVID-19”, Twitter has revised its ad policies to allow some advertisers to mention the virus.

As the company explains:

“In response to the shifting advertising landscape, and in order to support helpful causes during this time, we’re now allowing managed clients and partners to advertise content containing implicit or explicit reference to COVID-19 in certain use cases, with restrictions.”

The specific cases Twitter will be allowing are:

  • Adjustments to business practices and/or models in response to COVID-19
  • Support for customers and employees related to COVID-19

Despite this, Twitter says it will continue to block ads which include:

  • Distasteful references to the virus
  • Content that may be sensational or likely to incite a panic
  • Inflated prices or products related to the virus
  • Ads for face masks, alcohol-based hand sanitizers, supposed vaccines, or treatments.

TikTok and Pinterest Partner With WHO and Red Cross

TikTok and Pinterest have taken similar steps as others by blocking ads which “reference coronavirus, including when promoting products or services, to create a sense of fear, or to cause widespread offense”, as a TikTok spokesperson said.

In addition, these platforms have also been working with major health organizations around the globe to help spread relevant information and prevent misinformation.

Pinterest has been redirecting any searches on the platform to official content provided by the WHO to prevent the chance of delivering custom results which could be difficult to monitor for disinformation.

TikTok has taken similar steps by donating in-feed ad space to notable organizations including the WHO and Red Cross to ensure users have access to helpful information.

YouTube Blocks COVID-19 Ads Except From Trusted Sources

YouTube’s ad policies have largely been in-step with Google’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Initially, the platform would not allow any form of monetization on content relating to the coronavirus, citing “sensitive topic guidelines.”

Since then, the company has taken some steps to loosen that policy by allowing news organizations and reputable creators to produce videos about the issue in a sustainable way.

In a letter to the community, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki explained:

“In the days ahead, we will enable ads for content discussing the coronavirus on a limited number of channels, including creators who accurately self-certify and a range of news partners. We’re preparing our policies and enforcement processes to expand monetization to more creators and news organizations in the coming weeks.”

Despite this allowance, the company stresses it will continue to remove content that violates its policies or spreads misinformation.