Search Marketing

Google’s New Trademark Policy and Its Impact on Marketers

May 15, 2009

Today, Google announced a change to its trademark policy in the U.S., effective June 15th.

What’s the Change?

While it has always been possible to buy keyword terms that are trademarked by other companies, the use of those terms in ad creative has been restricted. Google is relaxing this policy and allowing advertisers who have a “relationship” with the trademark holder to utilize the trademark terms in their ad creative.

A “relationship” could be an explicit partnership, although simply providing products for resale or maintaining a Web site that is descriptive of the product constitutes a relationship. Advertisers who do not fall into one of those categories – specifically, a brand’s competitors – will still be restricted from including those trademark terms in ad copy.

What Does it Mean for Marketers?

For marketers, there are clear pros and cons as a result of this change. This is great news for companies like travel aggregators and multi-product retail stores (i.e. department stores). These companies will benefit from the opportunity to run creative that is more competitive and compelling to searchers because it can reference specific products.

Conversely, for brands who distribute their products through multiple channels and sell direct via the Web (i.e. Sony), their brand term ads will now be less likely to stand out from the pack. Their distributors may even be rewarded with higher quality scores and lower CPCs on their brand terms as a result of including them in ad creative.

Although it’s in the interest of distributors to honor the wishes of their partners by not including certain trademark terms in creative if they have been asked to refrain from doing so, it will become more difficult for trademark owners to exert control over how and where their brand terms are used. EBay, for example, could lay claim to being a reseller of almost any product, and would not be subject to the influence of those trademark owners. While Google clearly stands to gain economically from this change, there is some merit to their argument that increasing ad choice benefits consumers.

Our Recommendations

We recommend that marketers analyze the impact this new policy may have to their campaign and develop an attack plan to either defend or capitalize on these new rules through an ever evolving set of search marketing best practices.

If you are an aggregator or reseller, you should take a look at your current keyword list. If you are not already bidding on relevant brand or product terms, you should look at expanding your keyword list to include these terms and update your ad creative accordingly – provided that your partner or supplier (i.e. the brand’s trademark owner) does not object. This will allow you to take full advantage of the expanded opportunities that this new policy provides and should likely increase the response to your search ads since consumers are often more likely to click on ads that include real brand or product names.

However, if you own these brands/trademarks, you should have a discussion with your marketing and legal team to discuss what rules, if any, you want to put in place and communicate them accordingly to your distributors and partners. There is no one right answer to whether or not a brand should allow their partners to utilize their brand terms.

Some marketers will want to restrict their partners from using their brand terms in order to protect these marks, to control their CPCs and to ensure that their own search ads stand out from the pack. However, others will be more comfortable with the benefits of allowing partners to use their terms and promote their products in search ads. In this case, these brands will want to monitor their CPCs closely to see what, if any impact, this new policy has on their search marketing costs.

You can find more coverage of the policy change in today’s New York Times and Ad Age.

– Laura Mete Frizzell, VP of Media Services