Google has banned remarketing ads from Concordia Publishing House, the publishing company of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, because they mention “Jesus” and the “Bible.”
Carl Vehse brought this up in a comment, I saw CPH president Bruce Kintz’s tweet, and I read the Federalist article, but I had trouble believing it. Surely, this was just a mistake. But no. I contacted CPH and confirmed that it is true. In fact, CPH asked Google to review the decision twice, at different levels, and each time the ruling was the same. A Google representative helpfully said that if the company would remove the references to “Jesus” and the “Bible” on the website the ads could continue.
This refusal to allow any reference to religion–which must surely impact many more Christian organizations–applies to “personalized advertising.” In this case, the policy was triggered by “remarketing advertising” for CPH’s Vacation Bible School curriculum. Someone is searching for VBS material and goes to the CPH site to check out their offerings. Then the person goes to other publishers’ VBS sites. A “remarketing” ad would show up later to remind the customer of what was presented on the CPH site. That person had already chosen to go to the CPH site, so it’s hard to imagine that the potential customer looking for VBS curriculum would be offended to find religious references there.
Go here for the offending site, if you dare, and if you are sure you won’t be offended. Notice that you have to dig pretty deep, including opening .pdf files, to find the Jesus references and the Bible verses.
Here is the press release from CPH that tells the tale:
Concordia Publishing House Responds to Google Disabling of Faith-Based Advertising
Concordia Publishing House was informed on Monday that all CPH remarketing ads were “disabled due to a violation of Google’s policy for advertising based on interests and location.”
Remarketing ads reach out to individuals who have made a decision to visit a CPH webpage. Google defines this as showing “ads to people who’ve visited your website or used your mobile app. When people leave your website without buying anything, for example, remarketing helps you reconnect with them by showing relevant ads across their different devices.”
Upon receiving notification that the remarketing ads were disapproved, CPH staff contacted Google. In this conversation, CPH staff members were informed that remarketing ads based on religious beliefs were not allowed. After reviewing cph.org, cph.org/blog, and splashcanyon.cph.org, the Google representative indicated that content provided by CPH was beyond the scope of becoming compliant with Google.
CPH staff requested that a manager review the decision. This request was denied. The Google representative proceeded to inform CPH staff of changes that could be made to splashcanyon.org to bring it into compliance. These changes included removing specific faith-based content.
Following this conversation, CPH contacted Google again for additional clarification. This call resulted in Google agreeing to conduct a manual review of the CPH AdWords audiences that have been disabled. CPH was informed that this review could take several hours to complete.
Following this manual review, Google informed CPH that the type of ad in question would not be allowed based on Google’s policy of religious belief in personalized content. As a Google AdWords Support representative explained, the disapproval resulted from the fact that the items in the ad and on the CPH website refer to Jesus and/or the Bible. CPH was also informed that we could 1) remove all items that refer to Jesus or the Bible and proceed to use the remarketing ads or 2) use a different type of Google ad product. A follow-up email from AdWords Support reiterated the need to change or remove content. In part, the email said the following:
“Troubleshooter: Religious belief in personalized advertising
- Read the policy aboveto learn what we don’t allow. Ensure that your ads, site, or app comply with Personalizedadvertising policies. Note that even if ads are not targeted using sensitive categories, some types of ad content are still prohibited.
- Remove that content from your site or app.If your site or app has content that we don’t allow, remove all content that doesn’t comply with this policy or rename with matching synonym. You’ll then need to request a review before moving on to the next step of checking your audience lists.
- Remove that content from your ad.
If your ad violates this policy, edit it to make it comply.”
CPH President and CEO Dr. Bruce G. Kintz stated, “Clearly, CPH does not agree with Google’s decision in this matter. If we are willing to remove references to our faith in our ads or website, then we will be allowed to use remarketing ads with Google. Simply stated, we are not willing to sacrifice our beliefs to comply with Google’s requirements. It’s no secret that society is becoming increasingly hostile to the Christian faith. This increasing hostility makes our mission of proclaiming that faith through the books, Bibles, and curriculum that we produce all the more important. We will continue to proclaim the faith because we know without a doubt that the Word of the Lord endures forever.”
It continues to be CPH’s mission to share God’s Word with all Christians who are seeking faithful resources to support their faith. CPH will not be deterred by Google’s actions in this instance but will seek all available avenues to connect people to Christ.
About Concordia Publishing House
Concordia Publishing House (CPH) is the publishing arm of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. For 150 years, CPH has been providing individuals, churches, and schools with products that are faithful to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. From books and Bibles to church supplies, curriculum, and software, CPH offers over 10,000 products to support the proclamation of the Gospel worldwide. Visit CPH online at cph.org.
UPDATE: But see this from an LCMS layman and online security expert, who explains the crackdown on “retargeting ads” and concludes that “No, Google is not attacking CPH.” (HT: Carl Vehse)
But I still don’t understand why “religion” is a forbidden category. If there is a privacy problem with these ads, why not just eliminate them? And the problematic areas do not seem to appear in the ads, but in the websites that the ads direct a person to. So what kinds of ads are allowed to “retarget,” and which ones aren’t?
Illustration, Splash Mountain VBS Curriculum, from CPH