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Experiencing an apparent policy double standard as it applies to a gay brand, anyone else?

Explorer ✭ ✭ ☆
# 1
Explorer ✭ ✭ ☆
NOTE: This is a copy of my original post about this on the Google Partners North America Google Plus page. There has been a robust and informative discussion on this topic there, and it was suggested it be brought here.
 
I have a bit of a touchy question for everyone: Have you noticed or seen any indication of an heterosexual bias in policy enforcement?

I bring this up because one of our larger clients is a men's underwear and apparel company that is very openly gay. While they tend toward the racy side with some of their imagery, we're very careful to curate our landing pages and ad images to make sure they comply with policy. Yet over and over, our display ads, our remarketing lists, everything but text and shopping gets disapproved.

At this point, they're not even disapproving our display ads for their content or the landing page content, but because there is content on completely different parts of the site that doesn't adhere to the Google adult policy. We get told the same with our remarketing lists, or they will say it is because you could infer sexuality from those lists. All these arguments are blown out of the water by looking at the hetero or female counterparts and the ads they run. Victoria's Secret has plenty of content on their site that violates Google adult policy, and yet they run massive display campaigns and remarketing campaigns, and I have months and months of screencaps showing this is not just them "slipping through the cracks". As for the sexual orientation argument, you could just as easily argue that you could imply someone was straight from a visit to Victoria's Secret, and yet they are continuously running remarketing campaigns. And I've been served remarketing ads from multiple openly lesbian or trans brands.

At this point, after more than 8 months of dealing with these policy issues it's hard to see this as anything but a double standard; as far as Google is concerned if you want to sexually objectify women that's fine, but if it's guys "Eww no". It is incredibly frustrating to come back to our client again and again and have to say "Despite us adhering to the every letter of the Google adult policy, they have disapproved the campaign/remarketing list/display ads" while Victoria's Secret is running yet another display ad campaign featuring models holding their bare breasts in nothing but a thong (a clear violation of Google policy according to the available policy guidelines).

I hate to make a stink about it like this but I am at my whit's end. Our client is being boxed into a corner by the unreachable, unaccountable Google Policy team that seems to be letting their own personal, heteronormative biases bleed into their policy enforcement. No attempts to escalate this or see it addressed have gotten anywhere, the go to excuse is that if I see a double standard it's someone slipping through the cracks; well 8 months of watching one of the largest women's underwear brands in the world violating these same policies my client is being slammed for tells me this isn't just them "slipping through the cracks".

I'd really like thoughts and feedback on this. I'm open to discussion. If you've had the opposite experience, I'd love to know. I just want my client to be treated fairly and to have the same opportunities as other brands in their space and industry.
 
1 Expert replyverified_user

Re: Experiencing an apparent policy double standard as it applies to a gay brand, anyone else?

Explorer ✭ ✭ ☆
# 2
Explorer ✭ ✭ ☆
The Victoria's Secret argument is specious, because lesbians can buy lingerie, and VS isn't explicitedly marketing one way or another.

The rest, I'll need to think about.

Re: Experiencing an apparent policy double standard as it applies to a gay brand, anyone else?

Collaborator ✭ ☆ ☆
# 3
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@Spike M

 

Hey, first I want to say I can empathize. I've worked on a lingerie ecommerce site in the past that also had an adult product section, and it was difficult keeping out of that adult classification.  

However, I think many of the arguments you make that show bias are flawed.  One of the things I learned pretty quickly is that it just isn't about the landing page, but also what else can be seen on other parts of the sites.  This site I worked on did not identify sexuality one way or the other, and we were given just as much scrutiny as you are describing.

The remarketing list rules are pretty clear. Non-family safe stuff is not even allowed.  In my opinion, Victoria's Secret, certainly should not be categorized as "family safe."  Just because you see them running display ads, and remarketing campaigns doesn't necessarily mean that they are using the Google Display Network to do so. I just did a quick scan of their website source code, and I can't find any kind of Google related code anywhere.  Can you say with certainty it's definitely being served from Google?  There are many other remarketing options, and display networks out there. Some have a lot less stringent policies.

I also disagree that you can classify Victoria's Secret as hetero.  That part of their site comes across pretty neutral in my opinion.  As for these other brands that do identify with a sexual preference, can you be certain those ads are coming from the GDN?  The sensitive information" policy is quite clear about such as sexual orientation inferred from a user's visit to a particular website."  If your website states it caters to gay men, that rule certainly applies.

I can't believe there is really a double standard when it comes to sexuality. Especially considering that on a corporate level, Google has been an outspoken champion of LGBT rights.

I'd be interested in seeing the site we are talking about here if you'd like to discuss further.

Re: Experiencing an apparent policy double standard as it applies to a gay brand, anyone else?

[ Edited ]
Top Contributor
# 4
Top Contributor

@Spike M;

I already replied / posted my thoughts,  the other day,  in the original thread on the G+ community.

This thread, has been brought to the attention of Google.

Moshe, AdWords Top Contributor , Twitter | Linkedin | Community Profile | Ad-Globe
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Re: Experiencing an apparent policy double standard as it applies to a gay brand, anyone else?

Explorer ✭ ✭ ☆
# 5
Explorer ✭ ✭ ☆
I'll try to keep my response structured, but my apologies if i jump around a bit.

@David K

First, the client doesn't sell adult toys, strictly underwear and apparel. The sections that don't adhere to policy feature some of their mesh, sheer, or open front underwear, and the images are either blurred in the appropriate area if it's mesh or sheer or the model is blocking the view of the area with their hands; it's not porn or sex toys, but it wouldn't be appropriate under Google display policy (hence why we don't use these for landing pages or ads). Victoria's Secret also features plenty of material that explicitly violates Google display policy when it comes to adult content, frequently in their Display ads themselves. You could argue that these are exceptions if I didn't have screen caps of months upon months of these ads running, even after I report them.

On the remarketing front, Victoria's Secret is absolutely running remarketing through google. I have months of screencaps, source code included in some cases, of their display and remarketing ads running on googee, and they have Google remarketing tags on their site as well as other custom analytics and remarketing tags from what I can see. Their display ads, as well as my cleints and most underwear company's, should fall under the restricted content provision of Google Display policy. All of our remarketing is disabled, text, display, shopping, all of it. If someone has signed up for my clients email list, why should they be able to remarket to them? My client doesn't say explicitly that their brand is only for gay men, but that is the core of the audience and who they cater to primarily, just as Victoria's Secret's core audience is heterosexual and that is primarily who they cater to.

As far as sexuality, if a man visits VS you could reasonably guess that he is straight. You're right that you can't assume that all of VS's female customers are straight, there is a a percentage that are lesbian; but that applies to our client too, 30% of their customers are women, and not all of the men that shop there are gay. In both cases we have a significantly muddied customer base making it impossible to accurately judge sexuality just based off of a site visit unless you go with broad, sweeping generalizations; and yet my client gets the short end of the stick there. As for the other brands, they were on the google display network and they are using multiple remarketing tags.

Taking in all off this as a whole, it is very hard not to see a double standard being applied here.

Re: Experiencing an apparent policy double standard as it applies to a gay brand, anyone else?

[ Edited ]
Collaborator ✭ ☆ ☆
# 6
Collaborator ✭ ☆ ☆

@Spike M

I didn't mean to infer that. I was just meaning to explain how I could empathize with small parts of a site hurting the overall mission of a site where the majority of the content is "safe."

 

I haven't seen your site, or any of the screenshots you're talking about. I would love to see them. I did assume by your original post stating, "men's underwear and apparel company that is very openly gay" that the word gay was present in your content, title tags, etc. or something else that explicitly communicates as you said, "that is the core of the audience and who they cater to primarily."

I still respectfully disagree with your VS example. The issue I see at play here is a statistical one.  The majority of the population is hetero. That's why it can be reasonably assumed that the majority of their traffic is hetero. It has nothing to do with their website or how they market it. VS is a feminine site, but in my opinion it is sexual preference neutral. They sell lingerie for women, and only have women in their ads... at least from what I recall seeing. 

I certainly acknowledge the possibility of some kind of bias on the review level. I have not seen any of the evidence you've described. I can't find any Google items in the source code. Would you mine sharing it so I can see? Are you allowed to share the site we're talking about?

From my experience, the best approach to this type of situation is to focus on the site in question, and not what other sites are doing. I think the first step is identifying what about the site classifies it as identifying sexual preference. Once that is done you need to figure out if it can be changed/removed without alienating your core audience.  You've got kind of catch-22 going on here. You've got a niche core audience, but it violates policy to identify to that audience and build a remarketing list.

Re: Experiencing an apparent policy double standard as it applies to a gay brand, anyone else?

Explorer ✭ ✭ ☆
# 7
Explorer ✭ ✭ ☆

@David Kyle

I see your perspective, and it definitely has validity. I've tried not to focus on what others are doing, but after so long of struggling with this and so many occurrences of following Google policy only to get disapproved with no clear insight as to why I found I had to start looking at how this policy was being applied to similar brands.

 

I would love to share the client and the data I have collected, but I have to put the client first of course. I'm speaking with them today (was supposed to be yesterday but they had to reschedule) so I can get their permission to share that data. I'd like to put a case study together about this once I have the clients go ahead.

 

It's a complicated subject, and even if the perception of bias is just that, perception (though I still pretty firmly believe that it is more than that), it's one that will have to be addressed by Google inevitably. Right now there are many LGBT businesses that are pushed out of the ecommerce space or who have to use niche specialty channels to advertise because of the many policies that prevent them from directly marketing to their customer base. @MosheTLV has brought up the example of gay cruises, which illustrates the larger policy dilemma perfectly.

 

Thank you again for the input, and hopefully this afternoon I'll have a lot more I can post on thisSmiley Happy

Re: Experiencing an apparent policy double standard as it applies to a gay brand, anyone else?

Explorer ✭ ✭ ☆
# 8
Explorer ✭ ✭ ☆

David K wrote:
I just did a quick scan of their website source code, and I can't find any kind of Google related code anywhere.

It's (possibly) buried very deep. In Chrome Developer Tools, you can see pixel-only implementations firing from inside the Tealium and Floodlight containers. (The floodlight is inside the Tealium utag, even. There's some crazy piled on crazy, there!)

 

Still not 100% sure they're remarketing pixels, though. VS could be doing something really weird with conversion pixels, I guess.

 

Still thinking about this one..

Re: Experiencing an apparent policy double standard as it applies to a gay brand, anyone else?

Explorer ✭ ✭ ☆
# 9
Explorer ✭ ✭ ☆
They have Tealium and Floodlight tags, as well as Google Doubleclick remarketing tags. It all shows up in Google Tag Assistant, but yeah it's extremely hard to find in the source code.

Re: Experiencing an apparent policy double standard as it applies to a gay brand, anyone else?

[ Edited ]
Explorer ✭ ✭ ☆
# 10
Explorer ✭ ✭ ☆

So the client in question is Andrew Christian, they tend toward the racier side of things but so do many underwear and lingerie companies that advertise on Google. While they cater to a gay audience, no where does their site say that it or their products are only for gay men, which is evidenced by the roughly 27-30% of their traffic and revenue that comes from women. Despite that, they are not allowed to do any remarketing, not even using their own customer email lists.

 

Display ads get disapproved for a variety of inconsistent reasons. We get told that it's the image, that there is too much skin, but then I point out that if that were true then there shouldn't be ANY underwear or swimwear display ads on Google, and there obviously are. Then we get told it's the landing page; this is one of our go-to landing pages for the client, and it's plainly visible that it is a relatively "tame" page and certainly on par with the types of landing pages you see for Victoria's Secret, Calvin Klein and Soma. Then we get told that it is because of the rest of the content on the site, despite the fact that for Display ads the policy is supposed to be evaluated for  the landing page and the ad image. And if it were true that the entire site is evaluated for display, then again brands like VS, which have numerous images of topless women holding their breasts, women holding their crotch, and women wearing sheer tops with their nipples showing, should be unable to run display ads on Google.

 

I've included many of the screencaps I have taken over the months to demonstrate this double standard. Most are from VS since they illustrate this best, but there are some from a recent Calvin Klein campaign that also features many potential violations of the display policy (all of which my client has been dinged for).

 

The most egregious to me is the kissing scenes. I was explicitly told by our Agency Partner that images of kissing are not allowed on the display network when we tried to run display ads with a landing page that had an image of two male models kissing. He went on to make some homophobic comments about "I don't see why two men need to be shown kissing on the lips for an ad which is for underwear" and comparing them to Victoria's Secret who according to him their "Images are classy and don't look overtly sexual in nature". As we all know, there is nothing sexual at all about a woman on a bed wearing nothing but panties arching her back, and squeezing her bare breasts. The same day he told me this, Calvin Klein launched the display campaign that these screencaps are from which features among other things a straight couple making out. Also that day,  Think With Google published an article celebrating 5 years of TruView Youtube ads featuring the top ads from that time, including "First Kiss" which is an ad that is entirely people kissing! Not only that, but the only couple in the "First Kiss" ad that isn't shown making out on camera is the couple that is two men. It certainly shows that what our Agency Partner said about kissing is incorrect, and while a stretch it does lend credence to the idea that Google's Policy Team has an issue with gay men specifically.

 

Again, l don't think that this is a case of conscious discrimination. I think it's unconscious, but there's no way to address this with Google. Our Agency rep is of the "Ew, gay guys" camp so he's no help, and there is no way to hold the policy team accountable.If there weren't some kind of uneven application of policy at play, I would not have been able to get some of these display ad disapprovals overturned when working with AdWords support.

 

But the fact remains that my client is suffering to an unfair and uneven application of Google Advertising policy within their industry. Whether it's because of an anti-gay bias or misogyny skewing heavily on the side of sexualizing women, either way it's unfair. I fully acknowledge that because of Andrew Christian's brand image and content, there are times that they are going to legitimately fall on the wrong side of policy. But we work very hard to follow google policy and to carefully choose our images and landing pages so that they fall within policy and also maintain the brand image. But it's just been too many times, with things getting progressively worse even as Andrew Christian has been actively moving away from the racier images to go more mainstream, and other brands getting away with the things we are being told are against policy is happening to much too regularly for it to be them "slipping through the cracks".

 

So how do I get Google to address this? If my read of the situation is even partially accurate, my client is dealing with discrimination coming from a google team that is unreachable, unaccountable, and with no transparency or avenue for appeal.

 

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