AdWords shark preying on your trademarks in search? Here’s what you can do.

Yesterday I googled YoungShand. I often google core keywords that we should be ranking highly for. It’s not that I don’t trust the tracking reports we use, but there is something satisfying about seeing them for yourself. But this time, it wasn’t satisfying at all.

There above our listing was something else, more specifically someone else. It wasn’t a natural listing of course, but an ad. A paid listing was leveraging our brand name to attract potential customers.


I know, right. I was pretty upset too. But this isn’t an uncommon practice. Search categories are highly competitive, and when you’re under pressure to grow your business or are a new entrant in the market, there’s a lot of temptation to create ads that look like this.  

 Example ad, for a competitor using trademarked brand name in ad copy

Example ad, for a competitor using trademarked brand name in ad copy

That’s not fair. But is it legal?

Yes and no.

You can’t use someone’s trademark for your own purposes if you don’t own it or have permission to use it, that’s trademark infringement. So the ad we’ve used as an example above would be illegal. But that doesn’t mean it’s enforced.

As long as a competitor complies with Google Ad Standard, they can run ads like the one above, but you can stop it. If you see a competitor using your brand trademark in their copy, register a complaint with Google. All you have to do is prove to Google that you own it, and they’ll do the rest. You can register a trademark complaint here

But what if you find a competitor is targeting your brand name as a keyword? That’s a different story because back in 2008, Google lifted the ban on using competitor branded keywords. So, is it annoying? Yes. Does it steal hard-earned, should-be-organic traffic from you? Yes. Does Google allow you to do it? Yes. But is it legal to do this? Um not sure…

Domino’s Pizza bids on Pizza Hut’s branded keywords.  Pizza Hut then bidding on it’s own brand name to get a promotional offer up front.

Domino’s Pizza bids on Pizza Hut’s branded keywords. Pizza Hut then bidding on it’s own brand name to get a promotional offer up front.

If someone is bidding on your branded keywords, what should you do?

Just because Google allows you to do this doesn’t mean it’s best practice, and most companies will shy away from this. If someone is specifically searching for one brand and they are presented with another option – it has been shown that the effectiveness of this style of ambush advertising is very low. Also if a competitor who is targeting your name uses a media partner for their AdWords campaigns, they may not even be aware they’re doing it.

The best course of action is to send a polite email to your competitor, asking them to take down the ad in the interest of fair play. If it does turn out to be a tactic from their media partner, perhaps you can even suggest they use a more ethical one. You can even suggest that this is a breach of Trade Mark law as they are using your trademark without permission.

This will usually do the trick, however not every brand is interested in fair play, and they may never remove their ads (and are under no legal obligation to do so). But you don’t have to roll over; there are still a few options for you to regain control of the search results page.

  1. Bid on your own branded keywords.

    I know, I know. Why should you have to bid on your own name when you’re already ranking highly organically? It’s simple, search result domination. Having multiple listings in Google (paid and unpaid) can drastically improve your CTR and conversions.

  2. Target your competitor’s keywords.

    I’m not necessarily recommending this it is playing with fire, essentially it’s upping the arms race. However, giving your competitor a taste of their own medicine could be worthwhile if the result is an agreement for you both to remove your ads.

  3. Click on their ads.

    As a last resort, click on their ads every morning and exhaust their daily budget. Now this might not work for a large business, but if it’s another small business it won’t take long to exhaust their daily funds! I know this is a little childish, but I can tell you it’s quite satisfying.

So, that’s it in a nutshell. When it comes to using another brand’s trademarks, this is what is accepted and what’s illegal, and what you can do if it happens to you. Before you decide on a course of action, do your research. The last thing you want to do is end up in an ugly marketing war.

If you’d like to talk to us about how to make your media budget work harder please explore our media services.

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