Too hot for Facebook: MeUndies gladly rides ad censorship to record sales

By Michael Carney , written on April 30, 2014

From The News Desk

When you’re an underwear and basics apparel retailer, some of your advertisements are bound to include people in various states of undress. So is the case for MeUndies, an LA-area startup with American Apparel-like sensibilities that offers its goods via subscription and traditional ecommerce.

Barring the most puritanical of lenses, brief-clad coeds does not pornography make. And yet, MeUndies’ ads have been routinely blocked by Facebook under the social network’s inappropriate content guidelines. The process typically takes one to two weeks after new ad creative is launched before it’s flagged, I’m told, meaning it’s unlikely to be the result algorithmic moderation. Someone, be it Facebook users or employees, really doesn’t like these ads. But the company has gotten little in the way of answers.

“We’re definitely on someone’s naughty list,” says the company’s Head of Facebook Advertising Dan King.

The situation left the fledgling company choosing between deploying less provocative, and therefore less effective ads -- altering its brand image in the process – or forgoing its largest customer acquisition channel.

MeUndies chose door number three and has been rewarded handsomely for its decision.

Rather than bow down to Facebook’s conservative standards, MeUndies chose to mock them. Last Sunday, King and his design team conducted an eight-hour brainstorming session in which the team created a slate of marketing materials calling attention to their banned ads.

Each ad read something like, “Our content has been banned by Facebook. So our creative director drew this for you.” What followed was a rudimentary stick figure drawing “reenacting” the scenes of various banned ads.

MeUndies Ad

“We’ve been seeing three- to five-times higher click through rates [CTRs] than normal,” King says. “We created a landing page called ‘Too Hot for Facebook’ to host our banned ads and have been driving the traffic there.”

The company then launched a retargeting campaign to serve additional product-oriented ads elsewhere on the Web to these existing engaged viewers. The result has been a four-times increase in conversion based on the second click (i.e. those consumers who clicked on the stick figure Facebook ad, and on a second retargeted ad).

“Yesterday was a record day for us in terms of revenue,” King says. “We’ve been seeing a lot of momentum even before this week so I think there’s more to it, but this certainly helped.”

It should come as little surprise that the “banned by Facebook” campaign has resonated, given the online success of the many racy commercials banned by network TV. And this isn’t the first time that MeUndies has courted controversy, at one point even making the unorthodox decision to advertise on adult sites – with very different, and far less mainstream content. But the real question is, how long can MeUndies capitalize on this current situation before the novelty begins to wear thin?

“We’re definitely going to try to milk this, hopefully reinventing and evolving the creative for as long as possible,” King says. “There’s so many ads on the News Feed now that you have to stay one step ahead.”

MeUndies may only be able to extract limited leverage out of poking fun at Facebook, but it’s a good example of what’s possible when you combine a bit of creativity with startup determination.

As the saying goes, “When life gives you lemons, squirt someone in the eye.”