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Brad Geddes's Theories on Marketing Yahoo to Ban Certain Trademarks from becoming PPC Keywords

Yahoo to Ban Certain Trademarks from becoming PPC Keywords

Yahoo announced that they are going to ban the ability to bid on certain trademarked terms for their PPC product, Yahoo Search Marketing.

Here’s a snipped from some emails I’ve received:

On March 1, 2006, Yahoo! Search Marketing will modify its editorial guidelines regarding the use of keywords containing trademarks. Previously, we allowed competitive advertising by allowing advertisers to bid on third-party trademarks if those advertisers offered detailed comparative information about the trademark owner’s products or services in comparison to the competitive products and services that were offered or promoted on the advertiser’s site.

In order to more easily deliver quality user experiences when users search on terms that are trademarks, Yahoo!Search Marketing has determined that we will no longer allow bidding on keywords containing competitor trademarks.

Here’s Yahoo’s current trademark policy in regards to comparison:

  1. Competitive Comparison Site: The advertiser’s site offers detailed comparative information about the trademark owner’s products or services in comparison to the competitive products and services offered or promoted on the advertiser’s site, it clearly identifies on the landing page the competitive products offered on the site, AND ALL of the following are true:


    1. The comparative information is detailed, spanning multiple dimensions (for example, price, features, ingredients, third-party rankings, ratings or awards, etc.) and clearly helps consumers to make an informed decision about the product or service, AND
    2. The listing title includes the word "Compare" and makes clear to the consumer that the listing comes from the advertiser, not the trademark owner, for example, by saying "Compare Us to [Trademark Term " or "Compare Our Prices To [Trademark Owner]’s", AND
    3. The advertiser’s listing title and description identify the advertiser and disclose the nature of the qualifying comparative content the consumer will find on the advertiser’s site.

Source: Yahoo Trademark Policy.

At first, it may seem to be a safety response to a few lawsuits Google has recently faced in regards to trademarked bidding.

Google’s policy is pretty straightforward:

  • If the advertiser has requested the trademarked term not to be shown in

    • You can bid on a trademarked term.
    • You can’t use the term in your ad.
  • If the advertiser has not requested it:
    • You can bid on the trademarked term.
    • You can use the term in your ad.

It is important to see Google’s policy (which has been shaped by both lawsuits and Google’s approach to creating the best user experience possible), as many brands want to let advertisers sell and promote their trademarked terms. Often electronics and clothing manufacturers don’t sell their items directly, and they need the merchant to handle the retail portion of the sales process.

However, there seem to be a few other theories about Yahoo’s decision that may not be related to Google’s lawsuits, and more to do with recruiting new advertisers.

If one wants to recruit an advertiser from display ads into search marketing, the easiest concession to make is that one will reserve their brand name for their advertising effort only.

There was a recent incident where Pontiac ran a series of offline ads that told people to search for them on Google. By partnering with the trusted brand, Google, Pontiac hoped to capitalize on the brand association and that they are tops in Google. However, they didn’t expect Mazda to be running comparison ads triggered off the same searches.

What the campaign did essentially was:

  • Have Pontiac pay for offline ads.
  • Drive users to Google search.
  • See Pontiac in the top search result and with paid advertisements
  • Have Mazda capitalize on the search result by running ads alongside the
    Pontiac ones.
  • Essentially, Mazda received a lot of publicity without having to pay for
    the offline ads
  • And, Mazda received search traffic based on a Pontiac initiative
  • Very smart of Mazda.

In order to prevent a similar action from happening on Yahoo, all Yahoo has to do is reserve a brand name for use by one particular advertiser. This helps protect a brand, but also helps Yahoo recruit those advertisers by offering such an additional incentive.

The question will become, over time, in the above example, would a move like this hurt the small auto dealers who may no longer be able to advertise their dealerships without jumping through hoops to be able to bid on these trademarked names (which they carry in stock)?

Will it hurt Yahoo’s profits in the long run as brand keywords are often highly searched, and without a bidding environment to push the price upwards, only the brand name will be responsible for footing any bill necessary.

Every move has both positive and negative actions – and there are still unanswered questions to see how this one will act in the long run.

While many will applaud this move by Yahoo as being one of protecting brand names, there may be many other circumstances and reasons which only present themselves as more and more brand based bidding scenarios emerge.

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