An Australian consumer protection group has sued Google over alleged deceptive advertising practices. There’s two key parts to this suit that could affect the way you do business.
First, Google has been accused of letting businesses pay for sponsored links that use trademarked words or phrases owned by competitors. Here’s an example of how that would work. Let’s say that I sell MP3 players. If I bought ads on Google to sell my MP3 players and used the keywords “iPod,” “Apple,” and “iTunes,” I’d be misleading people who would be clicking on my ads thinking that they were actually going to see an Apple iPod instead of my MP3 player.
Secondly, the consumer group claims that Google’s search results are deceptive because search engine users can’t really distinguish between organic (unpaid) search engine results and advertisements such as AdWords on the same page.
What are the lessons to take from this?
Black hat or gray hat marketing techniques simply aren’t worth it in the long run when anyone with an axe to grind and hungry trial lawyer is willing to shake you down with a lawsuit or two.
Using a competitor’s trademarked names or phrases to mislead consumers in order to drive traffic to your website isn’t a good idea.
Advertorials and the like are still okay to use in marketing but beware of anything that will allow the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or another government agency to claim that you are misleading the public by claiming to provide objective information that in fact is advertising. “Protecting the public” can cost you.
You and I discussed this back in January when we talked about the FTC’s crackdown on buzz marketing.