By Susan Beaver Thompson ~ As a small business in Las Vegas, Nevada, we’d like to share our Google story.
Like many places in the U.S., Covid has hit Las Vegas hard. After losing a job last year teaching students how to deal poker, we decided to do as many entrepreneurial folks are doing: turn to the Internet to make money.
Determined not to let Covid slow us down, we did research and chose Teachable.com as the platform for our new “SuperDealer” online casino dealing school, the first of its kind. We began to build our sales page at www.superdealerschool.com.
We created a logo (right), developed a marketing plan, and registered our business. In July, we hired a videographer and started filming our instructional videos. During the lockdown, and various restrictions and business “pauses” in Vegas, we worked on our course constantly, spending four months and close to $7,500.
Making Our Move During Covid-19
Finally ready to go-to-market, in October, we shot a funny music video called “Do the Dealer Dance” on the Vegas Strip (below). Remember the old Safety Dance? We edited the video, and on October 20, posted it on our Changing Vegas YouTube channel as the trailer for our SuperDealer poker course.
Receiving good feedback on Twitter, we wanted to use the music video to run a YouTube ad for our SuperDealer course. On October 25, 2020, we created our first Google ad campaign, and held our breath to see how many sales we would get.
That’s when we encountered the first sniff of a problem.
Right there in red print, our YouTube account said Google had “Disapproved” our ad for being “Online Gambling”. What??? Our ad, video, and website were clearly for an online course. We have nothing to do with online gambling! This had to be a mistake.
After we contacted Google by phone, we were assigned a rep named Brittany (real name changed). Little did we know then that Brittany would be the first of four Google employees we would deal with over the next month. Brittany said that she’s looked at our ad and felt it was wrongly categorized, but their Machine Learning program had made the determination.
Machine Learning and Online Gambling
Machine learning (ML) is a subset of AI. It refers to the ability for computers to analyze data, classify it, recognize patterns, and make predictions. This “thinking” is performed without the explicit direction of any programming. In other words, machines learn for themselves without human intervention. Examples of machine learning include: Netflix or Amazon recommendations, spam detection, chatbots, and self-driving vehicles.
Brittany said that our ad would have to be re-submitted through the ML System again before it could be manually “reviewed by a person.” (Brittany seemed like a person, but what do I know?) Brittany said she would “keep an eye” on our account to make sure it happened.
Days went by and we heard nothing. In the meantime, I decided to do a little research, and found this Forbes article entitled:
A.I. Technology Takes Over YouTube Policing As COVID-19 Empties Google Offices
In a recent public letter during the pandemic, Google stated: “Machine learning helps detect potentially harmful content and then sends it to human reviewers for assessment. As a result of the new measures, we will temporarily start relying more on technology to help with some of the work normally done by reviewers.”
Similarly, in another related article on TechCrunch (below), Google commented on the review of YouTube ads:
“Automated technology is not perfect. Many videos will likely be impacted by this shift away from human moderation. And videos may be removed even though their content wasn’t actually against YouTube policy. In those cases, video creators are being asked to appeal the decision, which will allow YouTube’s remaining moderators to take a look at the video in question and make a decision.”
Is The Third Time A Charm?
After calling the main Google ad switchboard again, we were assigned another rep, Aniken (real name changed). We never heard from Aniken. Needing and wanting to sell some poker courses, we called the Google ad switchboard a third time. We were assigned to Vanna (real name changed).
Of course, as we waited on the phone each time, we heard messages asking us to “bear with any delays” because of we are in “unprecedented times!” We had and were being as patient as possible, but this was getting ridiculous!
When Vanna finally called, she explained that our ad had been disapproved because it used the word “poker”.
Of course, we used the word “poker” in our ad because it’s a poker dealing course.
Vanna also said the Google Machine had flagged it because we referred to a “wager” in our ad when we sang “pay $299 and come train with me.” We explained again that our online poker dealing course cost $299! Any PERSON could easily see, the $299 was the price, not a wager.
Unlike Brittany, Vanna told us that Google was not doing ANY manual reviews of YouTube ads during the pandemic. They were leaving it up to the machines. She also said that we’d have to submit an Appeal and apply for an “Online Gambling” certificate to be able to run YouTube ads even though we were not and are not offering gambling. We were learning the truth firsthand.
Google Has Their Cake And Eats It, Too
As one of the largest companies in the world, Google is relegating decisions that directly affect customers to Machine Learning, while at the same time making millions of dollars from business advertising during the pandemic.
In fact, according to TechWire, Google’s 4Q2020 ad revenue totaled $46.2 billion, a 22% increase from 2019.
Vanna gave us the information to submit an Appeal and emailed us a form to apply as an Online Gambling site and said she’d be back in touch with us. We never heard from her again. When we emailed Vanna, we received no response. When we called the number listed on her email to us, we got the same main advertising switchboard.
All of these “ employees” were nice enough on the phone, but it’s apparent that the Google Machine is in control; they were left subservient, unable to help.
Maybe they really are Cyborgs afterall!
We submitted the Appeal and started reviewing YouTube’s Online Gambling Certification Form. There are four classifications; we are none of them. The form also said that you have to attach your gaming license. In Nevada, of course, that costs big bucks. We have no intention of doing that.
Honestly, at that point, we gave up. It was just too frustrating and exhausting.
“Cyborg” Trent Gives Us A Call
A week later, on Friday morning, we received a call from Trent (real name changed). Was he yet another Google Cyborg?
Trent asked if we had filed the Online Gambing form. We explained our dilemma. He told us to apply to be a “Social Casino” even though we weren’t one. With the Google Machine’s “Social Casino” designation, we would’t have to attach a gaming license. Trent assured us that he’d watch for the form and that once it was approved by the Machine, it would show up as “Resolved” in our ad account. Cyborg Trent seemed totally on the ball and eager to help!
Though all of this had taken close to a month, sure enough, soon after, the Disapproved status in our account was removed. We had hope again! Excited, we created a second identical YouTube ad campaign and set it in motion!
We arose the next day. There it was AGAIN. “DISAPPROVED”!
Since then, we’ve sent three emails to Cyborg Trent. He’s not responding.
One of our friends suggested that maybe Cyborg Trent’s been sent in for repairs.
Censorship and Automation
You know, you hear a lot about censorship on YouTube and other tech platforms these days. Yes. It’s going on in the U.S. more than ever before. You also hear a lot about the advantages of automation.
Our story, however, demonstrates the Dark Downside to having many of the largest companies in America run by computers, and leaving their employees – and small business customers – with no recourse when there’s a problem. Post-Covid, will this trend continue indefinitely? As small business owners, we hope not.
Even though we were counting on YouTube advertising to drive our online course sales, we’re done with pursuing advertising on their platform. We should not have to work this hard to give them our money.
Our YouTube advertising is a tiny drop in the ocean to Google, it seems, yet it’s important to us a small business looking to make a living online.
Recently, we’ve set up our Changing Vegas in-home studio and are building an online gaming community on Twitch… and looking for other ways to promote our SuperDealer course. We’re also working on developing new innovative CCG, video, and casino games for the Millennial crowd as we change Vegas.
Well, that’s our Google story for now, and we’re sticking to it! Onward and upward!
Have you had an experience with the Google or YouTube ad department during the pandemic? Please leave your comments below.