Pulse, a Seattle startup that sells a motion-sensor lubricant warmer and dispenser for women, has tried advertising on Facebook for more than a year without much success. Most of its ads have been rejected. Pulse CEO Amy Buckalter described the situation as “gender bias.”
“Facebook has continually denied our ability to advertise our Pulse women’s sexual health products while at the same time allowing men’s sexual health products such as erectile dysfunction meds, condoms, and even ‘ball deodorant’ to be fully advertised without question,” she told GeekWire. “As you can imagine, this gender bias directly impacts our ability to acquire customers faster, grow sales faster, and attract VC capital.”
CNBC reported this weekend about Facebook blocking ads from Pulse and other companies, including another Seattle startup Genneve, which helps women answer questions about menopause and operates a women’s health marketplace. Genneve CEO Jill Angelo told CNBC that Facebook’s responses “are completely unacceptable and feel so discriminatory.”
The companies say Facebook is inconsistent with how it approves certain advertisements and has a double standard. CNBC reported that Facebook moderators cite a ban on adult products or services as reasons for their rejections.
But that isn’t sitting well with entrepreneurs such as Buckalter. She said she’s only received generic email responses from Facebook and has not spoken with any representatives.
“We are incredibly frustrated by our inability to directly connect our products to women that are seeking, and in need of, our solutions,” Buckalter said. “In terms of the business, unlike men’s sexual health products, it has dramatically and negatively impacted the rate of customer acquisition and acceleration. I’ve had to fund extended operating expense for gradual acceleration instead of driving increased marketing exposure with deeper and broader focus.”
We’ve reached out to Facebook for comment and will update this post when we hear back.
Facebook came under the microscope in September after a ProPublica review found that 15 employers advertised jobs on Facebook exclusively to one sex. It also made headlines Monday after taking down an ad paid for by Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign.
Buckalter has faced gender-related issues in the boardroom, too. At an event last year, the CEO explained how she’s learned to pitch her company’s products to those that may not be able to relate. For example, after hearing her pitch one day, a male investor told Buckalter that women in their 40s didn’t want to have sex anymore.
“In my next presentation, I went right to erectile dysfunction,” Buckalter said. “I talked about the little blue pill and how it’s really changed so many men’s lives.”
Founded in 2013, Pulse has two full-time employees and has raised $8.7 million to date from individual angels — 65 percent of whom are women.