Big tech and face masks

Over the past months, at MiMask we have been building a Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) brand for European quality face masks, with the mission to provide top quality masks, made in Europe, CO2-neutral, and directly available to the people that need them. We wanted to cut out the intermediaries, to avoid participating in the speculative prices of face masks, that we thought were abusive.

One of our founders has spent the past 20+ years building and scaling D2C businesses, and advertising has always played a key role to tell potential customers about a new product or service. Over time, focus has moved away from print and TV initially to Google, whose search advertising possibilities have greatly expanded in the past 15 years. Then came Facebook (incl. Instagram) and other social media channels, with the possibility to target customers with highly relevant ads. In the past years, influencers have gained weight. And then there's of course Amazon when it comes to eCommerce. Big tech has made reaching out to those that are very likely to be interested in your message a lot cheaper and effective.

When we launched, we prepared to advertise on Google. We use Shopify as an eCommerce solution, and there are some very practical ways to list our products on all kinds of Google platforms and services. But, to our great surprise: "Your ads were disapproved for Sensitive events." We got banned on pretty much all Google platforms. Fast forward a few weeks, and it became clear that Google claims it doesn't want to profit off the Covid-19 pandemic, and bans all advertising and promotion of face masks. All face masks? Nope, only those that actually filter and protect, like surgical masks or FFP2 masks. Textile masks, that are pretty useless when it comes to fighting Covid-19 and according to many health institutions provide a "false sense of protection" are allowed to advertise with no limits.

We turned to Facebook, only to see the exact same situation. Facebook's "policies" don't allow advertising a product that protects users from Covid-19. But our FB and Insta channels since then are flooded with cloth mask advertising.

As Covid-19 swept the globe, people turned to the internet to find protection. Searches for the keyword "Face Masks" exploded.

Google searches for Face Masks

But what happens if you search for "Face Mask" on Google? Bingo, you see a very uncluttered page (there is no advertising), and a few top links all to - Amazon!

Google loves Amazon

So, while Google claims it doesn't want to profit off a "Sensitive event", they are sending a gigantic amount of traffic straight to Amazon. One big tech company helping the other.

OK, so we listed ourselves on Amazon, to see if with a quality product, as a EU-based manufacturer, certified lab test results and compliant packaging we could sell our products there. To our immense astonishment, we entered into a 5 month long approval nightmare, fighting a byzantine bureaucracy, that until today is still not over. While we'll spare you the painful details of "getting listed on Amazon". This is not about Amazon-bashing, nor a hater post. The result of 5 months of fighting and keeping our calm is that on Amazon's 7 European marketplaces (DE, UK, FR, IT, ES, NL, SE) we are live on 4, and in none of them all MiMask products are available. Amazon choses in a completely opaque way who can sell what where. Also Amazon of course justifies this with their "strict policies and safety checks".

So, where is all this traffic gong that Amazon gets (supposedly for free?) from Google? Well, to Amazon's top selling face mask vendors. Like this one.Top selling chinese masks on Amazon

Quite interesting is that while MiMask still has not been approved to sell all our products on Amazon, this vendor is advertising a product in Spain in a packaging without a single word in Spanish. The entire box, except the words "Face Mask" is in Chinese. EU regulation is pretty clear about packaging guidelines. How did these guys get through Amazon's "strict policies and safety check", when their packaging is totally non-compliant?

But it gets even better. Remember how we wrote about cheap v expensive masks some time ago? Well, while on we sell our masks at the cheapest prices possible, if you buy MiMask on Amazon, you'll have to pay double the price. Why? Because Amazon takes over 50% of what you pay, between commissions, promotions and advertising. If you use their logistics (called FBA), their cut goes up even more. Remember that huge traffic they get from their friends at Google, for free? Yes, they charge their vendors for it. A whopping 30-40% of the price you pay on Amazon for our products goes only to advertising MiMask on Amazon.

So what, you might say? Well, at MiMask we are big believers in technology. We wanted to use our decades long D2C experience to deliver top quality face masks at cheap prices directly to the people who want and need them. We wanted to fight the scammers that sell low quality masks at horrendous, speculative prices. This time around, it seems the big tech companies have decided that they will make tons of cash from Covid-19, under the disguise of policies and guidelines and approval procedures. And they make the money either selling products that don't protect people (cloth masks) or cheap, illegal merchandise from China.

Leave a comment