Let’s face it: No one ever actually reads the “fine print” that accompanies the consumer policies and user agreements for all the services and vendors people use regularly. This adage also applies to the many notifications of changes to these agreements and policies that arrive in mailboxes and inboxes. After all, the vast majority of this information is probably not relevant to your day-to-day business.
But if part of your business involves advertising online — specifically using Google AdWords — there is a recent development of which you should be aware. This is especially true for retail or e-commerce businesses that sell various products and merchandise.
Changes Don’t Affect U.S., Canada
Before getting into the heart of the changes to the Google trademark policy, there’s one important caveat to understand: The new changes do not affect businesses that advertise using trademarks listed in either the United States or Canada. The changes apply only to trademarks held in the following nations:
- Hong Kong
- New Zealand
- South Korea
Photo Credit: Kinologik
To clearly illustrate the changes to the Google trademark policy, it’s helpful to briefly review how AdWords works. The service lets businesses create a Google account and then formulate an online “campaign” to target certain geographical areas while designating a specific advertising budget. Then a specific ad can be written using a headline, description, and destination URL.
The most important step in AdWords is selecting keywords that are relevant to the business or its products, and then “bidding” on these keywords with the goal of putting the business at or near the top of search engine pages.
For purposes of this discussion, a fictional company called WeatherHook will be created. This entity conducts online sales of table hooks for ladies’ bags and purses which contain sensors that compute and display weather-related information. The three main products of WeatherHook are the TempHook (which displays temperature), BaroHook (which displays barometric pressure and humidity), and AllergyHook (which displays levels of allergens in the air). All of the products are manufactured by WeatherHook, and all of the product names as well as the business name itself are trademarked in Australia.
What Are the Changes to the Google Trademark Policy?
The changes to Google’s trademark policy were announced on April 23, 2013, and were reportedly designed to make the policies concerning these eight countries more in line with those that apply to trademarks in North America. Prior to these changes, businesses selling products or otherwise using trademark names listed in the affected countries could not use those trademark names in their AdWords keywords unless they either a) owned the trademarks themselves, or b) had permission from the trademark’s owner to use the trademark in the ads.
But the changes to policy address these usage requirements. In short, businesses that use trademarks registered in the affected nations are now permitted to designate keywords that include trademarked names of businesses or products — as long as they do not include these trademark names in their actual AdWords ads.
Effects of the Google Trademark Policy Changes
These changes may have a profound effect on how businesses advertise themselves and direct traffic to their websites. In the above example, other companies that might wish to sell WeatherHook products to their e-commerce lineup of offerings (like popular global online retailers Amazon or AliBaba) can now tailor their AdWords campaigns to more specifically highlight each product.
For instance, instead of simply limiting keyword choices to non-trademarked phrases like weather purse hook, allergy purse hook, or temperature purse hook, the policy changes now permit these other companies to include keyword terms like WeatherHook, TempHook, AllergyHook, and BaroHook — and bid on them accordingly. The only condition is that these terms cannot appear in the actual AdWords ads created by these companies.
Still, with these new keywords in their AdWords campaign, these competing businesses now have an opportunity to appear on search engines whenever consumers type these trademarked terms into a Google search field.
Therefore, these changes are advantageous for companies who want to sell trademarked products on their sites — but not so helpful for companies who actually own these trademarks. In the above example, WeatherHook had control over which companies used their business and product trademarks in AdWords campaigns prior to the announced changes. But now, these changes effectively allow any competing company to use WeatherHook, TempHook, AllergyHook, and BaroHook in its AdWords campaigns — which in effect removes a key competitive advantage for WeatherHook regarding its search engine optimization via AdWords (although WeatherHook can still use these trademarks in their actual AdWords ads, which other companies cannot do).
Furthermore, if WeatherHook wants to appear at the top of Google search engines, the company may actually have to bid on its own trademarked keywords — and may have to battle larger companies who have more money to spend on AdWords campaigns!
The Future of AdWords
In a nutshell, the changes to Google’s trademark policy are good for business that sell products that are trademarked in the relevant countries but don’t own any trademarks — but not so good for companies that sell their own trademarked products. This would seem to tilt the scale in the direction of large e-commerce conglomerates that have financial resources to spend on AdWords campaigns and are no longer limited by what keywords they can bid on.
That said, policies like these are constantly in a state of flux, and it’s quite possible that future policy updates by Google about its AdWords programs may reverse the direction of the pendulum yet again. Only time will tell.
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