Facebook’s text overlay tool vs 20% text rule. Making sense of it all.

If you’re a marketer using Facebook ad tools, you may have faced this obstacle – the text limit rule.
Facebook’s research led to this rule – audiences engage better with ads that have high quality visuals than ads that have more text.

Judging by on-line reviews in forums and help sites, this rule has been very unpopular amongst Facebook ad designers.

How does Facebook determine text content?
Originally, the limit was 20% of text on an ad, and the amount of text was measured by a grid that covered the image space. If your text covered or touched more than five squares, you exceeded the 20% limit.

This year, Facebook introduced a Text Overlay Tool, which seemed to relax the text limit. The tool rates ads submitted; the ‘OK’ rating means that all users can see the ad, the ‘Low’ and ‘Medium’ ratings will reduce the number of users viewing the ad (and you may need to increase your bid to have it shown at all) and the ‘High’ rating means the ad won’t be shown.

While offering some flexibility, this new system still has its problems.

The text limit is arbitrary
The main complaint is that the calculation is arbitrary, or inconsistent. For example:

  • Some design elements can be calculated as text. For instance, the presence of a circle on the graphic might be counted as the letter ‘O’
  • Moving the text around on the graphic can result in a different measurement – even if the size of the text is the same
  • You can significantly reduce the amount of text in the graphic, and it will rate higher than the test before (truly odd and aggravating for the user)
  • There are ads with large amounts of text which get approved. That these ads belong to MNCs with presumably large ad budgets may be a coincidence (can anyone shed light on this?).

The text limit is too strict

  • If your brand logo has words or letters in it, it will considerably add to the text count
  • It counts watermarks as text
  • The measurement algorithm decides the quality of your ad without actually looking at the ad itself. The ad could be appealing even with over 20% text.

Are there exceptions?
Yes, there are exceptions made for certain image formats, such as magazine or book covers, posters for festivals, and infographics. However, there is no function when uploading the ad, to mark it as needing an exception.

Also, given the number of ads generated each day, it can take considerable time before a Facebook staffer can review the ad.

The algorithm does not work
The fact that the each ad is decided by a mathematical algorithm can be exasperating for Facebook advertisers, and we haven’t started on the bugs!

The text limit doesn’t consider that some advertisers need to have text in their ads. For example, if the advertiser wants to promote an event or a price chart, they can’t adequately communicate this with the text limit.

Let it scroll, let it scroll, let it scroll
Clients are often unaware of this text limit; the designer/account manager will need to manage the client’s expectation of what constitutes an ‘acceptable’ Facebook ad for both parties.

This is what we propose: let the audience decide on the effectiveness of each ad. If they find an ad too ugly or text-heavy, they can decide to scroll on or even unfollow the page. Advertisers will then be penalised with low click-through rates and will have to figure out what works well for their target audience.

By setting the text limit rule in this manner, we think that Facebook has created an advertiser tool that hinders the full potential use of its products. It’s especially ironic as social media is supposed to be a platform where everyone – even a six-week-old otter in Singapore’s Marina Bay –  can have a spot in the limelight.

*Find out more social media content management tips in our Social Media Content Bootcamp in Hong Kong 16 May and Kuala Lumpur 24 October.

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