The way we protect brands is changing. Are you keeping up?
If you have a brand worth protecting, competitors are already bidding on your brand name. Some bid directly on your name, while others will bid on obvious brand-plus derivatives, such as when GEICO bids on phrases like Progressive.
If you have a trademark or brand name that drives search volume, it will be one of your more profitable campaigns. Unfortunately, it is one of the important PPC campaigns for your affiliates, resellers and competitors too.
While it’s a simple process to understand, it requires considerable skill to actually catch advertisers bidding on your brand, prove that it’s happening, and then deal with the brand bidders appropriately.
Your response to competitive brand bidding can take several forms, from fighting back with your own brand bidding, to getting the engines to remove the ad.
The goal of these actions is to prevent competing advertisers from bidding on your keywords and/or limit the number of affiliates and resellers who can buy these keywords.
Identify brand keyword bidding violators using Google Auction Insights
Auction Insights is a great place to start evaluating your brand keywords and campaigns. For example, I can see who is buying these keywords, how often, and if they are showing up above me.
Remember that Google lets other advertisers to bid on your trademarks and use it in their ad’s Display URL. But, they cannot use it in ad copy.
Search keywords without being logged into Google
When you are logged into any google property, your search results will be customized to your search history and behavior. It is best practice to evaluate these keywords anonymously.
Iff you are logged out and searching from different geo-locations, you can’t catch all the violators.
There are several companies offering tools that help you monitor trademark and brands in PPC, but that’s usually a waste.
By adding the trademark, brand and product keywords into these tools, you get the ad intelligence you need to take appropriate action.
Importantly, you receive a screen shot of the search result, along with the location, time and date of the search. This provides the necessary evidence to contact the violators to take down these ads, or to contact the search engines (I mean Google).
The search engines have their own process for receiving violations from brand holders, and taking action. Some of these tools also let you submit the violations, with all the proof, directly to the right contact at each engine. This has become the most popular way to deal with this issue.
If successful in removing ads, clicks and profitability will likely increase
It’s basic PPC economics that with less competition, more people will click on your ads, or at least on your authorized reseller’s ads.
A recent case study showed how a brand holder received a 34% lift in clicks after removing violators from their branded campaigns. Yes please, may I have some more of that!
What are your legal options if you detect unwelcome competition or violators?
Search engine complaints
Filing a complaint with Google or Bing is the recommended option because it’s cheap (free to file) and easy, especially if you use an ad monitoring platform to automatically detect and file the complaints on your behalf. Before you get super-excited, however, there are some limitations:
- Protected items: Registered trademarks are protected.
- Allowed items: Each engine deals with trademark infringement as follows:
- Brand bidding: Anyone can bid on a name.
- Ad copy use: Not allowed (with some exceptions). Fair use rules allow resellers, affiliates, reviewers to use your name in ad copy.
- Destination URL use: Competitors can use your name as a sub-domain.. While the engines allow this, it does not mean that the law does. The more confusingly similar a URL is to the brand holder’s, the stronger the brand holder’s case becomes.
Pacts or Agreements
Another method to enforce protection is with agreements. Agreements give you stronger and more reliable legal recourse than just complaining to the engines.
- Competitive pacts: Some industries have gotten together, and competitors have formed written pacts where they have specifically agreed not to brand bid. These written agreements list in detail the allowed and prohibited activity, as well as enforcement proceedings should they be violated, which typically come with a financial price tag.
- Affiliate agreements: If you have affiliates or partners, your affiliate agreement should detail the allowed and disallowed brand bidding activity, along with notice rules and financial ramifications for any violations. The swiftness and harshness of your action should match the conduct, which includes:
- Direct linkers.This harmful advertising practice should be dealt with swiftly, since someone is hijacking your brand outright. Actions should include financial withholding and termination of the relationship.
- Unauthorized affiliates. Affiliates who brand bid without authorization are mucking up your strategies. Actions should include notice with cure periods, financial ramifications and eventual termination if the behavior is repetitive and material.
- Authorized affiliates. Super-affiliates should be handled more gently, with kinder notices that build upon themselves and provide cure periods. Financial repercussions and termination should only be used as last resorts.
- Reseller agreements:If you are a manufacturer, you likely have strict rules regarding sensationalized copy, minimum advertised price (MAP) compliance and brand bidding. Your agreements should detail these rules and the ramifications for not following them.
A lawsuit based on trademark infringement should be your last resort. Trademark lawsuits are expensive and challenging to win (as noted earlier). The caveat is if you have a pact or agreement that prohibits brand bidding, and you have proof of the advertising activity through date/time stamped screen shots, then you have a stronger chance for victory.
Thank you for reading the blog.