Falling foul of Trademarks and Google Adwords

Trademarks within Google Adwords cannot appear in adcopy unless you have permission from the trademark owner when the keyword is used in relation to the brand in question.

How are trademarks treated within Google Adwords?

Trademarks within Google Adwords cannot appear in adcopy unless you have permission from the trademark owner when the keyword is used in relation to the brand in question. It can however, be used in non-brand related adcopy and you may also bid upon trademarks.

There are of course many unique cases where a brand or advertiser might feel like a competitor bidding on their trademarked terms is one step too far, and it’s why I am writing about this topic today.

Falling foul of google adwords

As with most digital marketers who have access to a blog, I was half way through writing up a post on “my predictions for 2017” within the digital market space, when a letter from a solicitor landed on my desk.

This is a very rare occurrence for me and in this instance a solicitor firm (which I will not mention) asked me to stop using their client’s brand (who I will not mention) as this is a trademarked term in our advertising practises. On most days, this might have been an inconvenience but not today. I managed to delete the cliché blogpost on my 2017 predictions (there are 100s of posts on the topic so I am sure mine will not be missed) and write a post on the letter in front of me.

Firstly Google do make it clear that it is the advertiser who needs to be responsible for any infringements on adcopy. This blog is my opinion on the matter and after working in Adwords for over eight years and frequently brushing up on Google’s Advertising Policies this is my understanding of how this matter works. Very rarely does this problem come to the forefront of my attention but when it does, it can cause a headache for all involved.

That said, Google do have processes in place to help. If you have a trademark and you think that an advertiser is abusing it then you will need to submit a complaint via this form here.

As I had not received any notification from Google I presumed the solicitor in question either had not gone through the correct Google channels, or they had but Google had not seen any reason to act. As I wanted to service our client professionally, I reviewed the infringements put forward in the letter, of which there were two:

  1. That their brand term appeared in my client’s adcopy
  2. Our ads were appearing when a user searched the trademark in question

The trademark in question is of two separate words that are extremely generic for the industry in which it operates, however without a space in-between them. Using other industries as an example, if they were an online gambling company, they trademarked the term “onlinegambling”. If they were selling kitchen appliances, then “electriccooker” etc.

So with regards to their first objection, it was quite simple to refute. I uploaded my client’s Adwords account into Adwords Editor and searched for the brand. The search results came back with “no text ads match your filter”.

It is worth noting that dynamic text ads could deliver an alternate copy which would not appear in this filter. Luckily, we are not currently running dynamic text ads as they do not benefit the account structure so this wasn’t an issue in this case. If you are running dynamic text ads with keyword matches that could trigger a competitor’s trademark, then I would strongly advise you add any trademarks as a negative keyword for those adgroups. Problem solved.

So we could send documented proof that we were not using their trademark in any adcopy. A simple screenshot of the page in Adwords Editor was enough to show their claim to be false. This filter can be done within Adwords itself, however I did not want to send over any marketing data in the screenshot so I decided Adwords Editor as the best tool to use.

Remember, Google does let you use registered trademarks in display URLs and I have found this to be very successful in the past. It also lets you use the trademark as long as the copy is not referencing the brand in question but promoting a generic area of the industry.

Here are two great examples of how this works

Hoover is a famous case of how a trademarked brand can also be a generic keyword within their industry. In Hoover’s case their brand came first and over time it became so commonly used that all brands were hoovers. Therefore, Argos can use the term hoover as an umbrella term and then link goes through to a page dominated by Dyson and other competitors. The top ad is an official Hoover site so there are no problems using Hoover in their copy.

It is worth noting that the brand being represented by the solicitor in my letter did not create the generic term by being popular, they just trademarked the name because it was popular.

The second infringement claiming that we were bidding on their brand terms was a little strange; it certainly made me question the digital marketing knowledge of the solicitor.

Competitor campaigns have been allowed in Adwords since 2008.

There are a few restrictions in that your adcopy cannot mislead any user to you owning that trademark, or for you to be affiliated with that brand. During many of my competitor campaigns I have found that being explicit that you are not the brand the user searched for, to be a huge advantage anyhow. If a user is searching for website X, they click on the top ad expecting website X, and go to website Y, chances are they are going to bounce and have a negative perception of the misleading brand on website Y.

There are some great guidelines from Lunametrics here into building out competitor adcopy. The bottom line is you must convince the user that your proposition is better than that of what the user thought they wanted when they searched – and all within your character limited adcopy!

Back to my letter. Due to the trademark being such a close match to a very high volume generic term in the industry, our ads would certainly appear if a user searched for the trademark in question. Our account structure used exact match and broad match modifier match types, and although neither had the trademark in question as a keyword, we certainly were bidding on the term with the space included. Therefore there is a very strong possibility that the broad match modifier campaign would display our ad should a user search that trademark.

There is nothing even slightly illegal or frowned upon with this practise. There is also no way of anyone without access to the Adwords account, knowing what keywords you are bidding upon, so it is a bit a grey area to say the least.

check first, change later

In summary, if a brand or an agency receives a notice describing a trademark infringement, make sure you do your due diligence to know where you stand. Do not panic as chances are Google would have reviewed and informed you of any breach in policy; here’s a few simple steps to go through:

  1. Check whether the trademark exists, go through your advertising practises and make a judgement per Google Policies whether you are breaching any of them; especially with regards to misleading potential customers as this can be subjective to an extent.
  2. If you do feel that your marketing practises have been too aggressive I would strongly advise that you make any changes necessary and highlight what you have done to your competitor to rectify your activity. Changing adcopy and adding negatives are a very quick solution to any actual infringements and although this can have a negative effect on conversions in the short term, put yourselves in your competitor’s shoes and how you would react and respond to the miss-use of your brand’s trademark.
  3. Always respond to any claims in a timely fashion and be polite even if the accusations are completely wide of the mark.




start a conversation

Contact us