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Brand Hijacking: Using Your Competitor’s Name In Google AdWords

By Intellectual Property

brand hijacking pay-per-click

Should brand hijacking be allowed in PPC campaigns?

What’s happening with Brand Hijacking?

Many have become both aware and concerned that Google AdWords and other pay-per-click (PCC) allows advertisers to take advantage of the names and identities of their competitors through brand hijacking.

For example, Google AdWords allows advertisers to promote their website whenever a Google search includes words the advertiser chooses. As Google pictured it, a boot salesman could participate in AdWords by selecting words like “western boots” which, if searched by a Google user, would show the boot salesman’s website. Though pictured by Google representatives as a way to generate a profit for Google while directing specific users to the websites that want them, business competitors have taken advantage of Google’s program in a controversial way.

What do courts say about the legality of brand hijacking?

Instead of choosing a phrase like ‘western boots’ to generate traffic to their website, some PPC users have chosen the names, including trademarks, of their competitors to generate traffic. For example, lawyers have secured the names of their competitors in PPC campaigns.  In this way, an Internet user attempting to find a specific attorney will have a second competing attorney’s name appear in advertising because that second attorney tagged the first attorney’s name in the pay-per-click campaign.

Essentially, this piggybacking on more successful or better known identities has spawned controversy because some lawyers have claimed that they have lost business as a result of PPC advertising allowing their business competitors to commandeer clients from them who specifically type in their name.

Claiming that individuals have the right to use, and prevent the misuse of their names, the issue was litigated in a Wisconsin court recently. While the court recognized that individuals do have some ‘right of publicity’ to preserve the integrity of their names, the court found that freedom of speech guarantees extend to business people using the names of their competitors in Google’s AdwWords program.

What does this type of brand hijacking mean for the future of the internet?

While future brand hijacking litigation will determine what the internet will look like in regard to PPC campaigns, if courts use the same logic the Wisconsin court did in preserving freedom of speech, U.S.-based businesses will likely be freely able to use their competitors’ names to generate website views. This has the potential to materially devalue brands and related trademarks.

Perhaps such freedom will enable newcomers to different professions to advertise and compete in a more even-keeled manner with established businesses. However, opponents of pay-per-click (PPC) being used in such a way have strong arguments on their side in favor of an individual’s right to control the use and misuse of his or her very name in brand hijacking campaigns.

Internet Guru Ghouls: Marketing Vultures Feeding Off Of The Dead

By Internet Lawyer

internet-guru-vulturesI want to share with you an example of the utter lack of Internet marketing ethics and integrity that I encountered in the past week. In a certain info product niche (that shall remain nameless for now), respected Guru A passed away this month. This is someone who spent many decades teaching his particular expertise and is well-known in the industry.

Now the thing that normal people would do is offer condolences to family and business partners of Guru A. That’s what people who aren’t sociopaths or psychopaths do when a peer dies. But apparently that was simply too much to ask of certain gurus within the same field. After all, there was money to be made on the Internet by kicking the corpse.

Yes, we’re talking pay-per-click (PPC) ads that started running using the name of Guru A to drive traffic to the sites of competitors Guru B and Guru C even though Guru A’s business still existed despite his recent death. The typical reader of the PPC ads would mistakenly think they were for Guru A’s products.

Now what was the response of Gurus B and C when it was brought to their attention that (1) they were violating a federally registered trademark owned by Guru A’s business; and (2) misusing the name of a dead person to make money when the body isn’t cold yet.

Guru B at first attacked the messenger for delivering the message, denying the existence of the PPC ads run for his business using Guru A’s name. Guru B then claimed he had nothing to do with it even after being presented with a copy of one of the ads. As part of this, Guru B claimed it was an affiliate promoting for him, denied responsibility for an affiliate’s misconduct, wouldn’t disclose the affiliate’s identity, and only agreed to take any action when he was facing litigation.

In contrast, Guru C took down the ads when requested. Whether motivated by shame or simply acknowledging what it would do to his public image if it became known what he was doing, at least Guru C had the common sense utterly lacking in Guru B to do the right thing after the fact.

As for Gurus B and C, I’ll be watching their conduct to see if they stray again. If they do, they’ll be tried and convicted in the court of public opinion. And that’s not counting what the legal system will do to them. Early retirement will become the greener pasture.

Some people wonder why the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is cracking down on deceptive Internet marketing and sales practices. My take on it is that there are amoral gurus who will take advantage of anyone (including the dead) to make a fast buck online. If info product marketers do not develop their own rules of professional conduct and police themselves, the government is going to step in with rules no one likes and do it for them.

Religious or not, let’s at least start with an Internet Marketing Golden Rule: Treat Others How You Want To Be Treated.

Profit: 2 Simple Ways to Increase the Money You Make On The Internet

By Internet Lawyer

Internet profitsI spoke last month at Eric Louviere’s MemberSnap event in Austin. It was easy to see who really ‘gets it’ when it comes to online marketing. As Eric pointed out, if you’ve got a good product or service you’re selling online, if you’re not making as much as you want, it pretty much boils down to traffic and conversion.

1. Increase the traffic to your offer.
2. Boost the conversion rates.

Instead of doing this, most online marketers focus on the latest get-rich-quick or black hat method of gaming the system for a fast buck. Jacks-of-all-trades instead of mastering one.

I’ve yet to meet a long-term successful marketer who has mastered everything necessary to run an online business. Focus on your core strengths and outsource everything else instead of trying to (poorly) reinvent the wheel.

Good at product creation but lousy at web design? Do the former and outsource the latter. It is insanity to devote your time to designing sites when your skills lie elsewhere. Hate client service but love setting up profitable pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns? Why do both? Spend that time on PPC and get some people-friendly independent contractors to handle your client service.

Amazon Attacks AdWords: Paid Search Traffic Limited for Affiliates

By Internet Lawyer

Effective May 1, 2009, Amazon.com won’t be paying its North American “Amazon Associates” (affiliates) referral fees for purchases generated by direct paid search traffic from search engines like Google, Yahoo, and MSN. This appears to be a crack down on affiliate advertising that in essence competes with Amazon’s own advertising campaigns. It probably relates as well to Amazon’s continued efforts to fight trademark infringement by affiliates who use Amazon marks as keyword search terms. Many affiliates continue to violate the terms of the program by using trademarked terms like “Kindle” in their pay-per-click (PPC) search terms instead of “wireless reading device.”

Note that this change apparently is limited to U.S. and Canadian Amazon Associates. European and Japanese affiliates remain untouched for the moment. Another key detail — driving paid search traffic to your website and then having affiliate links that comply with Amazon’s affiliate operating agreement appears to be permitted (for now).

To learn more about these changes, you’ll want to go to FAQ: Paid Search Traffic and the Amazon Associates Program.