If you’ve tried to place a Facebook ad recently, you might have noticed a new option called a “Facebook Special Ad Category.” When you want to place an ad in one these categories, you’ll encounter some additional restrictions, especially when it comes to selecting a target audience, but that doesn’t mean your Special Ad Categories ads can’t still be effective in marketing your business.

The regulations around ads in Facebook’s Special Ad Categories can seem a little complicated, but in practice, placing one of these ads isn’t all that different from placing a “normal” Facebook ad.

In this article, I’ll break down for you everything you need to know about the Facebook Special Ad Category feature, including:

  • Facebook’s reasoning for introducing Special Ad Categories
  • More details about what Special Ad Categories entail
  • Types of Facebook Special Ad Categories
  • Understanding Special Ad Audiences on Facebook
  • Audience targeting tips for Special Ad Categories

Why Facebook introduced the Special Ad Category feature

Facebook ads have been a hot topic of conversation ever since they were introduced as an option to users in 2007. The ability to target ads to hyper-specific audiences based on the wealth of user data collected by the social platform has been a game-changer for businesses large and small, but it’s not without its fair share of controversy.

The new targeted advertising capabilities Facebook brought to the world have generated ongoing concerns over users’ data privacy, as well as the ability to target ads in a way that could be discriminatory or manipulative. The truth is that the social media giant is still navigating how to regulate its ad platform to prevent discriminatory and manipulative advertising, and they likely will be doing so for the foreseeable future.

Their latest major step in this effort came in the Fall of 2019 when they introduced Facebook Special Ad Categories. Ads that fall into Facebook’s special categories are subject to additional requirements, and advertisers placing these ads are limited in the ways they can target specific audiences.

Understanding Facebook’s Special Ad Categories

The Facebook Special Ad Category exists to bring additional regulation to some of the most sensitive ad topics like social and political issues, or types of ads that have a long history of discrimination, including credit, employment, and housing opportunities.

According to Facebook, the idea is that these added restrictions on Facebook ads in special categories will “help protect people on Facebook from unlawful discrimination,” per their advertising policies.

If you’re not advertising in a Special Ad Category, you don’t really need to worry about these additional considerations. But sometimes the line between a “special” ad and a regular Facebook ad isn’t 100% clear, so it’s worth understanding exactly what these Special Ad Categories entail.

Do I need to select a Special Ad Category on my Facebook ads?

When you’re creating a Facebook ad, you’ll need to select a Special Ad Category if the subject of your ad falls into any of the categories below:

Social issues, elections, or political ads

This is the broadest of the special categories, so it helps to break it down further into two subcategories:

  • Social issues refer to ads that have the aim of influencing public opinion, often on highly-debated and sometimes controversial topics. This subcategory could include civil rights advocacy, support for a social group, issues around health rights and discrimination, or posts advocating for or against a particular social movement or piece of proposed legislation. 
  • Elections or political ads include anything that endorses or criticizes a political figure, a candidate for public office, or political party. It also includes ads about any election or ballot initiative, even if the ad doesn’t explicitly advocate for a specific stance. That means that a simple “get out the vote” campaign would be considered political advertising, even if the campaign didn’t tell users whom or what to vote for.

Facebook ads concerning social and political issues are extra special and require advertisers to complete an ad authorization process before placing these ads. The requirements for Facebook ad authorization vary by country, so if you’re interested in placing ads around social or political issues, make sure to review Facebook’s social and political issues ad authorization process.

Credit opportunity ads

The Credit Special Ad Category concerns any ad directly linked to a credit opportunity. This includes ads that feature:

  • Credit card offers, including branded loyalty rewards credit cards
  • Auto loans
  • Personal loans
  • Business loans
  • Mortgages

Employment opportunity ads

The Employment category is pretty straightforward in that it encompasses any ads that feature any employment-related opportunities. Some examples of ad topics included here are:

  • Full-time jobs
  • Part-time jobs
  • Internships
  • Professional certification programs
  • Job fairs (or virtual job boards)

This category also includes ads that promote the perks and advantages of working for a particular company, even if the ad doesn’t include a specific job opportunity.

Housing opportunities ads include any ads that feature a housing opportunity, or a service related to housing. Those in the real estate and home and building services industry should take special care to become familiar with this category, which includes:

  • Sales or rentals of homes or apartments
  • Homeowners insurance
  • Mortgage insurance
  • Mortgage loans
  • Housing repairs
  • Home equity or appraisal services

Take time to understand the Special Ad Category feature.

It’s worth taking a moment to note that the lists of examples in the Facebook Special Ad Categories above are not comprehensive, and you still might find yourself needing support in determining which category, if any, applies to the ads you want to place. 

If you’re looking for additional support on your Facebook advertising, you can talk to a Constant Contact marketing advisor or read Facebook’s article on choosing a Facebook Special Ad Category.

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Understanding Facebook Special Ad Category Audiences

A Special Ad Audience is a target audience you create specifically for campaigns that fall into the Special Ad Categories mentioned above. The way Facebook allows you to target your audience for Special Ad Categories is what really sets them apart from other Facebook ads. 

What is a Facebook Special Ad Category Audience?

In short, targeting for Facebook Special Ad Categories is fairly limited compared to regular Facebook ads. When you create an audience for an ad in a special category, you won’t have as much control in terms of targeting based on things like age, gender, and certain other demographics, behaviors, or interests. This means you won’t be able to utilize a Lookalike audience either.

Facebook special ad category - building an audience
When creating a Facebook ad in a special category, you won’t be able to edit basic demographics like gender and age, in compliance with Facebook’s Discriminatory Practices Policy.

Even though some detailed targeting options and Lookalike audiences aren’t allowed in Special Ad Categories, it’s still possible to effectively target the people most likely to respond to your ad.

How to create a Facebook Special Ad Category Audience

Just because you’re limited in your ad targeting for special ad categories doesn’t mean you can’t still reach your target audience. Here are some of the options you can (and should) specify when creating a Special Ad Audience.


With Special Ad Categories, you can still target by geographic location, so be sure to take advantage of that if you’re aiming to reach a location-specific audience. Just know that location targeting is a little different when it comes to Special Ad Categories. 

When it comes to location targeting, Special Ad Categories allow you to select an audience based on country, region, state, province, city, and even congressional district, but you can not target by ZIP code.

Something else to note when it comes to using location to build a Special Ad Audience is that any location(s) you select will include a minimum 15-mile radius around the target location. You are able to expand this radius, but you will not be able to shrink it below 15 miles.

Detailed targeting and interests

Special Ad Categories do still allow some detailed targeting based on user interests, and you should absolutely take advantage of that to make sure your ad is reaching the right people. 

As I mentioned before, for Special Ad Categories, some options won’t be available. You won’t see the same demographic, behavior, or interest options to choose from when creating your audience. You also won’t be able to narrow your audience by excluding any particular groups. Again, the idea here is to encourage advertisers not to be exclusionary when it comes to employment, credit, or housing opportunities.

That said, targeting is still critical with special ad categories. If you’re placing an ad for an employment opportunity in the construction industry, for example, you’ll want to consider selecting “construction” as an interest when creating your audience.

Even though you can’t narrow your audience by excluding criteria, you can narrow it by including additional interests. For example, let’s say the construction job you’re placing an ad for is a management position. You could add “Management” as an interest in addition to “Construction” to get candidates more likely to qualify for the job.

Facebook Special Ad Category Audience building
Here’s what it looks like to narrow your Facebook Special Ad Audience by adding interests within Constant Contact.

Use Facebook ads in special categories effectively

Once you have your special categories ad up and running, you’ll want to keep an eye on it to make sure it’s achieving your desired results. A crucial element to effectively managing and monitoring your social media marketing is observing how your posts and ads perform so that you can use that information to refine future campaigns, whether they fall into Special Ad Categories or not.

If your ad isn’t achieving the results you were hoping for, think about what you can tweak before you run it again. Can you refine the text to better connect with the reader of your ad? Can you swap out the imagery for something more eye-catching or effective? Can you go back to the drawing board with your targeting and approach creating your Special Ad Audience differently?

As with all Facebook ads, you’ll want to run experiments with your ads that fall into Facebook Special Ad Categories, swapping out the individual elements of your ad until you find the right recipe for success.

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