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Using company names and trademarks in search advertising

Here are a couple of questions which come up regularly, and which often confuse search engine advertisers. One is: “Can I advertise against a competitor’s company or brand name?” and the other is: “Can competitors advertise against my company or brand name?”

Here is the generalised answer. There are exceptions in different countries, and in certain circumstances, but this should be enough to give you an idea of how it all works.

So, can anybody advertise against searches on a brand name, whoever it belongs to, and whether it’s trademarked or not? The answer is yes. You can specify competitors’ names in your keywords list, and they can specify yours. The results page for your company name doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to Google or Bing, and they can let whoever they want advertise there.

However, the cost per click of a search advert is set in relation to the relevance of that advert to the search. So if company B advertises on searches for company A’s name, and neither their advert nor their landing page mentions company A, then the relevance will be classed as low, and the cost may be very high. Still, if they’re the only advertiser, they’ll have a free run at it. That’s why we always recommend that everyone places an advert against searches on their own company name, just to ensure they bump potential competition down (or off) the page.

What about mentioning another company’s name, brands or products in the advert itself? In countries such as the UK and USA, Google allows anything, unless the term used is a trademark and the trademark owner has filed a ‘complaint’. This can be done pre-emptively. So if someone’s advertising using your trademarks in their adverts, or you don’t want to allow that in the future, get that ‘complaint’ in.

If a trademark has been protected in this way, any adverts submitted which contain that trademark will simply be rejected automatically. So if you’re thinking of advertising using a competitor’s name or other trademark in your advert copy, just try it. The worst that can happen is that the advert gets rejected. Of course, any legal issues arising from what you say about them are another matter.

One problem which can arise for distributors is when a supplier or principal has filed a ‘complaint’ against others using their name. When this happens, your adverts advertising the product you distribute will be rejected. To get around this, you need the trademark holder to complete a waiver form which agrees to let your AdWords account use that trademark. While that makes sense in principle, finding the trademark holder at large multinational manufacturers can be a hard task, even for a distributor. Getting them to complete Google’s arcane forms can be just as painful, so it’s not uncommon for advertisers simply to give up. Google says it’s trying to make things easier, so we watch with interest.

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