How To Show Your Competitor’s Trademark In Your PPC Ads

Last month, ProFlowers got into a bit of trouble when it was revealed that they were showing PPC ads indicating local florists were sold out for Valentine’s Day. This is such a magnificent piece of douchebaggery that I think it deserves a slow clap.

So how were they able to achieve this spectacular feat of jerkitude? It turns out that while Google offers some protections for trademarks in AdWords ads, their system isn’t entirely flawless. There’s a shady workaround that ProFlowers used, and that I’m going to show you in this post.

First off, let’s talk a little about how trademark usage works in AdWords and AdCenter. Both networks allow you to bid on keywords related to a competitor’s trademark. But text ads are a different story. In Google, trademark owners can file a request to Google to disallow the use of their trademarks in ads. Once this is approved, any advertiser who tries to use that trademark in ads might find those ads disapproved instantly once they’re submitted, or held “under review” indefinitely. AdCenter is a little more lenient with trademark use in ads. Here are their guidelines, taken from Microsoft’s Intellectual Property Guidelines page:

Please note that Microsoft allows the fair use of trademarks in ad text, such as:

Use of a trademark by a reseller of authentic goods or services
Informational websites about goods or services represented by the trademark, such as product reviews
Ordinary dictionary use of a term
Comparative advertising, when supported by independent research

Google’s intellectual property guidelines can be found here. Also note that these rules apply to legally-registered trademarks only. Just because you have an established business name doesn’t necessarily mean that trademark rules apply.

Now that you know the rules, let’s talk about how to break them. If you’re not able to directly insert a competitor’s trademark in your ad, you can often get away with it via the magic of dynamic keyword insertion (DKI). In the ProFlowers example, they most likely had an ad group full of local florist names, and used this dynamic ad:

Title: {KeyWord: ProFlowers} $19.99
Description Line 1: Sold Out For Valentine’s Day
Description Line 2: Order For Wednesday and Beyond
Display URL:

Note the DKI formula in the title. If a user typed in the name of a local florist that was on ProFlowers’ keyword list, then the bidded keyword would show up in that space. In this example, the disgruntled florist typed in “Chez Bloom” and was horrified to find out that Google stated that they were sold out. Since it’s okay to use competitor names as keywords and it’s okay to use DKI, you can often get past the trademark filters that automatically block you when you try to put in a competitor’s name outright.

Is this against the rules? Technically, no. Is it shady as hell? Oh yes. This is a nifty trick, but it won’t necessarily allow you to bury your competitors with your PPC might. Whenever you bid on a competitor name, you’re very likely to get a low quality score (which means lower placement and a higher CPC) because Google doesn’t think your site is relevant to your competitor’s name. And rightly so! Plus, the people who are typing in a competitor’s brand name are more than likely set on buying from that competitor, so it’s going to be an uphill battle to sway them to your side. But, this is just another strategy to add to your PPC arsenal if you’re feeling particularly nasty.

About Shawn Livengood

Shawn Livengood is a search engine marketing professional based in Austin, Texas. He has extensive experience managing pay-per-click ad campaigns for clients in various industries, from small home-based businesses to large international companies. You can connect with Shawn on Google+.
This entry was posted in Bing, Google AdWords, Keywords, Microsoft AdCenter, Quality Score, Search Engines, Text Ads. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to How To Show Your Competitor’s Trademark In Your PPC Ads

  1. Laura Chase says:

    Shawn, thanks for outing Proflowers. It truly was as you say “a magnificent piece of douchebaggery”. And in this case, 100% fraudulent! Not sure how they can get away with this blackhat crap!!