I see this situation every few months. A frantic call or email from a client who is shocked and dismayed that their competitor’s PPC ad is showing up when they search for their trademark or brand. How did this happen and what to do?
First, don’t panic. Second, let’s assess the situation.
What if ‘My Trademark Showed Up in Ad Copy on a PPC Ad?’
Let’s assume your brand is trademarked. All major PPC ad platforms prohibit use of trademarks in ad copy. Therefore, it shouldn’t be appearing in others’ ads in search engines like Google or Bing, or in social ads like Facebook or LinkedIn. If it is, you can file a complaint with the ad platform and ask that it be investigated. Google’s form includes a “Scope of Complaint – Advertisers Involved” where you can select to limit this complaint to specific ads or to all advertisers. If you select all advertisers, be sure to include your own AdWords account as an “Authorized Entity” or your own ads may be disapproved in the future.
Likewise, if you experience this on Bing/Yahoo, you can also file a complaint about use in a specific PPC ad. Microsoft will investigate a complaint about trademark infringement in the text of a search ad on Bing and Yahoo Search after it receives all required information via the form. One major point of difference is that Bing allows the fair use of trademarks in ad text, such as resellers, product reviews, dictionary use of a term, or comparative advertising.
Facebook also allows you to report Intellectual Property or Copyright Infringement from forms on its site.
If you discover this occurring in LinkedIn, it asks you to contact LinkedIn Customer Service.
What if ‘My Competitor Is Bidding on My Trademarked Keyword so Ads Are Showing Up on Branded Searches?’
This scenario is a little trickier. Google allows advertisers to bid on trademarked keywords in the U.S., Canada, and many other countries, as long as they are not in the ad copy itself. Google’s help section also lists countries where such keyword bidding is not allowed at all.
Bing and Yahoo will no longer investigate complaints about trademarks used as keywords. Therefore, in both of these paid search platforms, it’s possible and likely a competitor could leverage your good name for their benefit.
There’s always one other option: ask nicely. It’s recommended to reach out to the violator and simply ask them to stop using your trademark in advertising. For example: “I was searching on Google this morning for our trademark term ‘super fly sunglasses’ and it appears that your ad is showing up on this keyword phrase. I am not sure if this is an accident or intentional, but I would like to ask that you remove this from your campaign and/or add ‘super fly sunglasses’ as a negative keyword. I hope you understand that this is a trademarked term and we are constantly fighting trademark infringers and simply want to protect our brand. I appreciate your acknowledgment of my concern and willingness to help with this. Thank you for your understanding.”
Does the violator have to comply? No, but it never hurts to ask.
How to Take Control of Your Brand Back
If you encounter problems with your trademark being used in either PPC ad texts or keywords, you are likely in a competitive industry where your brand has value and people want that. You’ll now need to stand out as the brand. Besides taking the action noted earlier, a few other simple tactics can help your ads stand out:
- Brand owners should always bid on their own trademarks to be present for searches and to reinforce your brand’s leadership.
- Use of “official site” or “original” in your ad text sends the message your brand is the one and only and can help to differentiate yourself from lookalikes.
- Include a clear display URL in the ad with your brand name, even if the core domain is not the brand name. Try using www.somedomain.com/brand if necessary.
- Utilize Ad Sitelinks in Google with clear brand messaging to get an additional four links attached to your ad when it appears in the top positions.
- Use of the trademark symbol ™ or copyright symbol ® in the ad title or ad text is allowed if the trademark is already registered for both Google and Bing.
Now that we’ve assessed the situation and have a solid direction, we can begin to calmly tackle each incident and take control of our brand in PPC.
The secret formula: submit trademark forms + ask nicely to stop + control brand presence = one happy brand.