He tried to sell ‘revolutionary’ backpacks in Hong Kong. Facebook’s response left him ‘gobsmacked’

British inventor David Wolffe thought he had the perfect slogan for his new backpack, which swivelled around the user’s body to allow ease of access.

He called it the “revolutionary” backpack, a wordplay on the unique selling point, and video ads began running on Facebook around the world.

But then he and his social media team tried to advertise the “Wolffepack” in Hong Kong, in Chinese – and the result left him “gobsmacked”.

The ad was instantly banned by Facebook. The problem, said Wolffe and his social media consultant Richard Buckton, was the world “revolutionary” and its political connotations, spuriously detected by Facebook’s algorithms.

“Not in a million years” did Wolffe imagine any inflammatory political implication in the bag’s slogan. “When you’re sweating bullets as an inventor and an investor, you’re focused only on the product … you don’t imagine for a second the politics of the form of words,” he said.

Facebook denies that the wording was the problem. “This ad was rejected during the review process due to technical issues unrelated to the advertising copy,” said a spokesman. “The technical issues were subsequently resolved and the ad was approved.”

But neither Wolffe nor Buckton buy the explanation. They point out that ads dubbing the Wolffepack “revolutionary” had run without problem in an identical format in about 20 different Facebook markets around the world, in numerous languages.

Only in Hong Kong did the ad get banned – twice. Both times, removing one word, “revolutionary”, resulted in immediate approval.The initial rejection on March 2, 2017 – almost as soon as the video ad began running on Hong Kong-based Facebook users’ feeds – said: “Your advert wasn’t approved because it doesn’t follow our Advertising Policies, which apply to an advert’s content, its audience and the destination that it links to.

“We don’t allow adverts that use profanity, or refer to the viewer’s attributes (e.g. race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, name) or harass viewers.”

The advert’s Chinese text had read: “A brand new, revolutionary, unique orbital-style backpack – has made its world debut.”

Buckton, of the Britain-based social media consultancy Rekrmend, said he and Wolffe racked their brains to work out what the problem was, and who they might be accidentally harassing or offending, having only Facebook’s apparently automated rejection message to go on.

“We thought ‘what’s wrong with it?’ Profanity? It’s not like we were swearing in the ad,” he said.

Said Wolffe: “We started joking. Maybe it’s the word ‘revolutionary’ because of China, and we all had a big laugh about it. It seemed like the least likely thing.”

But with no other clues, they decided to test the theory by placing the same ad without the word “revolutionary” in the video ad’s written introduction. It was instantly approved.

“When we tested it and found that that that was what it was, we were totally gobsmacked,” said Wolffe. “This innocent word was the problem.”

In the meantime, Buckton appealed against the ban on the original slogan and it was quickly rescinded by Facebook. But then, about three weeks later, the ad was banned again in Hong Kong.

Again, it was reinstated immediately when the word “revolutionary” was removed from the text.

Buckton said he believed the initial disapproval may have been “system generated … picked up by a machine”, and the second by a complaint. “It’s hard to know for sure because Facebook will never really tell you,” he said.

The “revolutionary” slogan was re-approved by Facebook a second time, but Wolffe’s team decided to stop advertising the bag specifically to Hong Kong buyers about a year ago. A Hong Kong website for the Wolffepack still exists, with no reference to the design being “revolutionary”, unlike numerous other localised iterations of the site.

Hong Kong was “a good market, but relatively small”, said Wolffe, adding that 35,000 Wolffepacks had been sold around the world, in more than 50 countries.

Facebook’s explanation about “technical issues” with the ads for Hong Kong made no sense, said Wolffe, calling it “very evasive, very suspicious”.

Buckton mentioned the Wolffepack’s ad woes in a New York Times interview last month, about how Facebook ads for an unrelated product with which he was involved, a photo book about space science, had been derailed by complaints from flat-Earth conspiracists.

For the record, the Wolfepack’s creators have no aspirations regarding Hong Kong’s governance, although watching the current unrest in the city underscored the sensitivity of the SAR’s political status.

“We’re just a company borne out of an idea some bloke had in the bathtub one day,” Wolffe said. – South China Morning Post

Source: TheStar