By Lesley Hensell – Riverbend Consulting
Frustrated sellers everywhere ask the question. Why can I sell my product on Amazon, yet I cannot run a PPC campaign? After all, sponsored ads are key to driving revenue on the hyper-competitive Amazon platform.
Brand owners reasonably assume that if a product is OK to list to sell, it must be OK to advertise as well. Unfortunately, Amazon’s rules around sponsored ads are quite different from its standards for what is allowed for sale.
There are some strategies sellers can use to avoid ad campaign rejections. Read on to understand the wild world of restricted products on Amazon, prohibited products in Amazon advertising, and why the two don’t always correspond.
First, can you even sell it?
Amazon blocks a range of products from being sold on its platform. Known as “Restricted Products” in Amazonian lingo, these items may be illegal. They may present risk for Amazon and its buyers. Or the products may live in some gray area where Amazon does not want sellers to tread.
First, let’s talk illegal products. E-commerce platforms have been notoriously abused and manipulated by individuals wishing to sell drugs, weapons and the like. Because of scrutiny from federal, state and local jurisdictions around the world, Amazon must immediately shut down any listing that could possibly be masquerading as a fence for illegal items.
This extends to items that are illegal in only some of the 50 states. Don’t expect marijuana products to be legal on the platform any time soon, since managing where and how items are shipped and from what states, crossing many state lines, would be virtually impossible. This goes for CBD items and drug paraphernalia as well. (Goodbye grinders.)
Items that present risk for Amazon and its buyers also land on the Restricted Products list. For example, Amazon will not allow the sale of hoverboards after numerous incidents of hoverboards catching on fire. On both the illegal and risky list are some supplements with ingredients forbidden by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Now for the gray areas. Some of these murky situations include items such as anything with a Confederate flag or picture of a marijuana leaf. Amazon considers these symbols to promote drug use, hate and other negative values, so out they go.
Back in the supplement category, as well as in beauty, are ASINs with improper claims. Listing detail pages cannot promise that the product will make buyers thin and rich tomorrow.
There are dozens more examples of restricted products at Amazon. But the examples above give you the gist. So how does this relate to advertising?
Amazon may sell it, but not promote it
In some cases, Amazon may allow the sale of a product on the platform. But they will not allow the further promotion of the product through sponsored ads.
For example, there are supplements made for people who are sensitive to the tannins in wine. If they imbibe even a single glass, they may develop a wicked headache. The supplements can help prevent this negative reaction and allow wine drinkers to relax and enjoy.
Amazon will allow these supplements to be sold. But it will block PPC campaigns for the ASINs. Why? Amazon believes that the product promotes the consumption of alcohol.
Now, most folks with common sense would disagree with Amazon’s determination. (I certainly do.) But this example clarifies how and why Amazon may allow the sale of a product, but not allow PPC ads for the same ASIN.
What can get my ads blocked?
Amazon has an extensive list of products prohibited for advertising. But beyond these general prohibitions, it’s important to do the following:
- Avoid any claims in ads that may put you on Amazon’s radar. Even claims that were allowed on a listing detail page may get a PPC campaign shut down. This is especially critical in the supplements and beauty categories.
- Don’t talk directly to buyers. Amazon doesn’t like sellers to address buyers, asking, “do you have this problem I can solve?”
- Don’t show before-and-after images or videos in the beauty category. Amazon considers this “body shaming.”
- Don’t smack-talk competitors. Mentioning another brand in your ad is a sure-fire way to draw scrutiny.
- While kids and dogs may get buyers’ eyeballs, they shouldn’t be put adjacent to any products Amazon might consider to be in a gray area. This includes weapons of any kind.
Why can my competitor advertise their product, and I can’t advertise mine?
Amazon is not always fair. This is extremely frustrating for sellers, who can often see clear disparities between how they are treated compared to their competitors.
Nonetheless, just because a competitor is breaking the rules, doesn’t mean Amazon will allow you to get away with it as well. If you see a competitor advertising a product that you have been blocked from pushing via PPC, consider the following:
- Are your products listed in the same category and subcategory? It’s possible that the subcategory for one of your products is allowing ads versus disallowing them.
- Are you making claims that Amazon is not allowing?
- Have you violated any other Amazon rules in your advertising?
If your ad hasn’t broken Amazon policy, you can appeal. Explain to Amazon why you should be allowed to advertise. If you get stuck, Riverbend Consulting can help. We’ve assisted many brands who were blocked from running sponsored ads.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lesley Hensell is co-founder and co-owner of Riverbend Consulting, which solves Amazon problems for third-party sellers and vendors. Lesley has personally helped hundreds of third-party sellers get their accounts and ASINs back up and running. She has been an Amazon seller for more than a decade, thanks to her boys (21 and 15) who do most of the heavy lifting.
Mina Elias, “The Egyptian Prescription,” is the CEO of Trivium Group. A chemical engineer turned Amazon seller, he mastered Amazon PPC advertising, investing personally. His insights, shared via YouTube and podcasts, led to Trivium’s global recognition. Today, Mina is a leading figure in the Amazon PPC space.