Recently I had a meeting with a brand that unfortunately due to COVID-19 has had internal changes, team re-assignments and staff layoffs. When meeting with this brand what was clear that several partners was using the branded trademark in its PPC advertising.
Understandably, us as well as the brand wanted to know —is the partner allowed to do that?
And the answer (as it often is in PPC) is this: it depends.
One point is abundantly clear. Google won’t restrict PPC advertisers from using brand names (i.e. trademarks) as keywords. Even if your marketing team complains to Google, Google will not investigate the issue.
So, your partners and competitors (and your marketing team!) are free and clear to use brand names as keywords.
But things get more nuanced when it comes to ad text.
Let us start by examining the case the brand brought to us.
A search on our client’s branded product name yielded the following result:
The first ad is the partner ad, appearing above the brand’s own ad in the SERP. Using the brand name in all aspects of the ad including offering a pay now pay later headline to entice the user to its own site.
The second ad is the brands own ad.
So, what (if anything) can you do about it?
The first thing to clarify is whether the advertiser is an authorized reseller.
Now you might think a company would automatically know who is and is not an authorized reseller. But often, it is not so straightforward. Relationships with authorized resellers can be vast and complex.
So, we advised our client to do some digging to confirm whether one of their departments had okayed the use of its brand name by that reseller.
If it turns out that the ad is run by an authorized reseller (where our client has granted permission for use by submitting the necessary form to Google) we would recommend that our client continue to keep an eye on the ad. The client should make sure the ad is consistent with the client’s branding and that the reseller complies with their agreement.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen situations where authorized resellers, partners and/or affiliates operate outside of agreed-upon terms. And things can get ugly, fast.
Another reason to keep an eye on these ads is to monitor whether resellers are offering promotions that beat our client’s promotions.
Here is an example of how those ads sometimes display when we search for the branded product name:
The top ad is the brand’s ad.
And in this case, it looks like the partner is offering the best deal (40 percent off)
Partners quite often offer discounts that are deeper than what the brand is offering, which poaches potential sales. And when brands make a better margin on selling directly through their own sites than through partner sites, that is not a good thing.
But what if the brand has not authorized the partner use the company’s brand name?
Then it’s time to take a closer look at Google’s policies.
Google specifically states that resellers are in compliance with its policies if (to paraphrase):
Informational sites are in compliance if:
In other words, it’s okay for advertisers to use your trademark if they’re genuinely selling your products through the site or providing information about them. What they can’t do is use your brand name as a bait-and-switch to promote other brands or products.
In addition, Google has several other restrictions with the general purpose of discouraging tricks that manipulate the system. You can find the complete policy in this AdWords help file.
If we determine that the offending ad contravenes Google’s policies, then we need to make a formal complaint, using Google’s trademark complaint form.
Once received, Google will investigate the complaint and may restrict the use of our client’s trademark in ad text.
For example, we had a client who’s competitors were running PPC ads with a headline along the lines of, “We can do better than [client brand].” We felt this was contrary to Google policies (as the primary purpose of the landing pages was to sell the competitor’s brand, not the client’s brand), and we submitted a complaint to Google. Google investigated and ultimately restricted this use of the client’s brand name.
As you can see, you do have some recourse when it comes to unauthorized resellers or competitors leveraging your brand name. But before going to the effort of filing a complaint, do a bit of digging and analysis first—to make sure you are not misreading the situation.
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