Tulsi Gabbard filed a lawsuit against Google on Thursday. Her team claims that the tech giant maliciously censored her campaign’s message by disabling her Google Ads account for several hours- two days after she appeared in MSNBC’s democratic debate.
Case closed, right? This lawsuit must be an easy win for the Tulsi Team. No, not really. You could argue that Google even saved Tulsi before she drained all her campaign funds on pointless ads. Let’s take a look at what really happened.
The lawsuit itself isn’t worth the read. It’s written like the brainchild of campaign staffers and not experienced attorneys. The only pages that matter are 11 & 12. To summarize these 2 pages: two days after Tulsi’s debate debut on June 26th, her team noticed Tulsi was trending on various social media platforms. Due to this, her campaign thought it would be a fantastic idea to start purchasing ads on Google. You kind of prepare for these types of things. You don’t wait until the minute you see a hashtag trending on Twitter. Ah, well, I’ll continue…
Within an hour or two, Google suspended her ad account due to “problems with billing information or violations of our advertising policies.” & “identified suspicious behavior in the payment activity in your account.”. Google reinstated her account several hours later. Let’s take a closer look at how all this went down.
A campaign intern decided it would be strategic to run Google ads to promote and boost Tulsi’s online presence post-debate. The intern(s), clearly having no idea what they were getting into, logged into the campaign’s Google account and created the ad campaign. Utterly oblivious of how search advertising works, the ad account was set up with near to no configuration. Of course, this carelessness racked up a bill over $85,000 within 24 hours.
Spending roughly $85,000 on Google ads in several hours isn’t easy to do. It means there was gross negligence on Gabbard’s end. If I were to take an educated guess, and I’d say this is more of an explanation than a guess, the campaign created an ad campaign targeting the keyword ‘gabbard’, set no spending limits and ignoring any other ‘limits’. They pressed play and watched the ads eat up tens of thousands of dollars in hours.
Google offer’s a Transparency Report, which publicizes political ads and spending estimates. Here’s the report for the report on Tulsi Now. Below, we can see the infamous day that prompted the lawsuit in question.
Again, with Google’s Transparency Report, we can see exactly which ads Tulsi’s team burned money on. And, as you would guess, they were terrible.
This is the one ad that the majority of the $85,000 was burned on. In just several hours. Not compelling. Not engaging. Moving on, as mentioned earlier, my educated guess was that her interns simply targeted the keyword ‘gabbard’, nothing else, and let it fly.
Well, I was wrong. It was even worse. Using the digital marketing tool SEMRush, I was able to take a look at what keywords Tulsi’s ad triggered on. A few golden nuggets of the tens of thousands of keywords that were targeted: “tulasi cotton seeds”, “buy tulasi plant”, and “tulsi sugar”.
I won’t get too technical with Google’s ad platform, but it’s relatively clear that Tulsi’s team targeted the keywords “tulsi” and “gabbard” in broad match form. Broad match lets the ad system build off of single keywords and trigger on variations or alterations of the word. When you have a campaign spending several thousand dollars an hour using a broad match setting, you can maybe see how the keyword ‘basil in kannada’ triggered the ad.
Now this story comes to an end for now. When Google temporarily suspended her account, a coherent argument could be made that they saved her from wasting tens of thousands of more dollars on keywords such as ‘rajnigandha pan masala with tulsi’. However, Gabbard’s campaign is taking a different approach in a desperate attempt to salvage their donors wasted $85,000. She drums up the press by suing Google under the guise of censorship.