Playing the Algorithm: How One Startup Was Driven to Extremes by Meta Ad Bans

B Corp Certified, sustainable underwear brand, Nudea, was launched in 2019 and has already established itself as a disruptor in the bra shopping experience. Powered by data from 20,000 bra wearers, Nudea’s designs are engineered with intelligent features uniquely created for the modern woman, responsibly manufactured and crafted from recycled yarns.

As DTC online-focused brand with no physical stores, digital advertising platforms are crucial to gaining new customers and spreading the brand’s story. Platforms such as Instagram and Google are central to reaching new customers. In fact, Facebook and Google advertising are in many cases the only viable options available for online startup businesses like Nudea.

Nudea Logo


Nudea’s CEO and Founder Priya Downes expands: “The challenge is that these platforms aren’t perfect and rather than help small businesses like Nudea, they can in fact hinder our ability to reach new audiences. We were shocked to discover when we started to advertise on social platforms and found that many of our ads were banned by the algorithms for ‘overtly sexual positioning’. As a brand focused on good fit, all our images are created tastefully and with the intention of showcasing the underwear in its best light on a model.”

“It amazes me that in 2022, images of women’s underwear would be banned for promoting excessive nudity, whereas men’s bare chests are deemed acceptable. Moreover, as the algorithms work on a flesh-to-underwear ratio, the curvier the model, the more likely the ad will be banned. As a brand which promotes diversity and positive body messaging, it’s truly ironic that slim models should be favoured. This only serves to dilute our message and not allow us to tell our brand story more fully.”

Priya continues: “As a startup, in theory, paid social could be one of our strongest marketing channels for cost effective customer acquisition, however, the reality is very different. Once a dynamic ad is disapproved, it means we can’t then target users who’ve browsed certain products on our site. In addition, due to bans on images, we’re not able to display our complete collection on our Instagram shop which limits our social commerce capabilities.”


Nudea Banned Image


In the UK, debate is currently raging across social media channels following the ban by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) on Adidas’ sports bra ads for showing bare breasts which were deemed likely to cause widespread offence. The ads which showed pairs of female breasts to illustrate the diversity of its sports bra range, were banned in May 2022 by the ASA following just 24 complaints that the ads were gratuitous, objectified women by “sexualising them and reducing them to body parts”, were harmful and offensive and were able to be seen by children.

Priya Downes adds: “This is proving to be a very tricky process to navigate, as a business we’re yet not big enough to have an account manager at Meta to look at our ads, so we’re very much at the mercy of the algorithm which is why we’ve had so many issues with ads being banned. To prove the point, we even resorted to using a male model to model one of our bras as part of an April Fool’s Day prank, which obviously wasn’t banned. It’s proving to be a real challenge understanding Meta’s content filters. Added to that is the opt-out of cookies policy since mid-last year which has reduced the effectiveness of audience targeting on the platform, which is yet another hurdle to advertising on the platform. All of this is making me question our spend and indeed the use of the platform going forward. For example, we have cut our spend by over 50% in the last year with no impact on our growth as we focus on other channels that are more effective and welcoming to our ethos.”