Bidding on Trademarked Keywords is Fine: It’s Called Competition
Ian Lurie May 9 2008
The whole fuss around buying competitor’s keywords in pay per click marketing campaigns is stupid. Moronic. Foolish. Wasteful.
Did I mention bad? And stupid?
There is nothing wrong with bidding on a competitor’s brand name.
Let me say it a different way: If you’re Infiniti, it’s perfectly OK to make sure your ad shows up if someone searches for ‘Audi’.
Why It’s OK: It’s Called Competition
See, putting your ad next to someone else’s ad is called competition.
On TV, commercials say “Our product beat [competitor name here]’s product 3 out of 4 times!” Competitors buy space opposite each other, too.
Right now, Ford is squeaking “We’re now equal to Toyota in quality!” I’d love to smack the genius that came up with that as a marketing message. But it’s a good illustration of using a competitor’s name in your marketing message.
In magazines you’ll see comparisons all the time:
Is Audi going to sue BMW over this ad? No.
Yet this BMW ad is more offensive to Audi than BMW buying a simple PPC ad. The BMW ad includes Audi’s name; search engines won’t let you do this in a PPC ad. If BMW bought an ad for the keyword ‘Audi’, the most they’d get is a brandless bit of copy, likely ranked lower than Audi’s ad.
In fact, Infiniti is doing just that, right now:
They’re inviting comparison. That’s most of what marketing is: Prompting consumers to compare you favorably to your competitors.
So Why The Fuss?
So why sue over a pay per click (PPC) ad?
Possible answers include:
- You are an attorney who still thinks the internet is a bunch of tubes.
- You are a dolt.
- You have nothing better to do.
- You feel sorry for all those judges out there and want to keep them company.
- You are afraid of competition and want to shut it down in this new medium as quickly as possible
I suspect the real answer is the last one.
The rising storm over trademarked keywords has nothing to do with fairness. If it did, everyone would look at the history of comparative advertising and realize this is a tempest in a teapot.
This is about executives who know nothing about internet marketing. They see a new medium. They don’t understand it. So they try to simplify it by locking it up.
When in doubt, regulate.
But it’s a losing game: They’re playing tug-of-war with a much bigger opponent.
What You Can’t Do
I’m not suggesting folks should start using deceptive ads, or putting competitor brand names in the ad copy itself. That’s bad.
Someone’s doing it to me right now, accidentally or on purpose, and it drives me up a wall:
Viva La Keyword Revolution’
I am saying it’s ridiculous to try to prevent bidding on trademarked terms. Screw that.
I said a naughty word, so you know I’m serious.
I’m off to bid on Coca-Cola, WellsFargo and Mazda. See ya later.
Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More