20Jan

Google came under fire recently after its paid advertising division AdWords sent an email referring to the terms “curvy” and “plus size” as “negative physical attributes,” and exposing a controversial standard in its advertising rules.

Photo: Flickr.com

Photo: Flickr.com

The crisis sparked after advertising company WordStream submitted a Gmail Ad for its client specializing in plus-size fashion and received the following disapproval notice:

“At this time, Gmail Advertising policy does not permit promotion of products and services that targets individuals with negative physical attributes such plus size, curvy. To run your ads, please remove any content related to body type and personality targeting from your ad or site.”

Surprised by Google’s response and harsh language, WordStream posted a blog displaying the email, along with its argument that Google’s current policy sets double standards for both consumers and certain types of businesses. While only allowing fashion ads depicting conventional “skinny” models, Google puts companies specializing in plus-size fashion at a serious disadvantage, at the same time limiting people’s access to their products.

The post was later removed upon the client’s request, but not before the story was quickly picked up by several news outlets, including Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, MediaPost and others.

Following the press backlash, a Google spokesperson made the following statement, admitting the poor language choice, but noting that the company is not intending to change its current Gmail Advertising policy:

“We have very specific policies on the types of ads we allow in Gmail. The email our team sent to explain this was poorly worded and we’ve made changes to fix this moving forward.”

One strategic communications takeaway from this story is that you can never underestimate the importance of properly established and consistent corporate communications procedures. In this case, the larger controversy around Google’s Ads policy may have been avoided if not for the unfortunately worded email.

Had Google’s AdWords teams established an approved (and more properly worded) email template for this and other types of disapproval notices, they would have likely avoided this PR crisis altogether. That of course doesn’t mean that all of your customer communication should be reduced to flat, automated language, but it is important to always examine routinely sent messaging for any potentially controversies or threats to the brand.

While Google did the right thing by acknowledging the poorly worded email, and we certainly hope that the company has made the necessary adjustments avoid such incidents in the future, the media maelstrom surrounding its controversial AdWords policy rages on.

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