Picture the scene: You’re a successful local business with a prominent shop on the high street, a trusted name that has been there for years and always offers good value and quality service to your loyal customers. You’ve spent countless hours building up your name and your reputation, and the recognition is well deserved.

Then, one day, you see another shop has opened on the other side of the road. It’s selling the same kind of goods as you are, and trying to appeal to the same kind of audience, but most worrying of all – it’s using your name, right above the door, to try and do it.

If this happened to your business, you’d be outraged, and take immediate steps to stop it from happening. Yet online, other businesses could be using your name as part of their paid search strategy, potentially damaging your reputation and raising your costs, and many companies are simply letting it happen.

Brand infringement can come from a variety of places and impact you in a variety of ways – keep vigilant by considering the following.

It’s Not Just Your Competitors Who Want Your Brand Terms

While you might assume that it’s the rival businesses in your space who stand to benefit the most from bidding on your brand terms, often, the real issues can come from closer to home, with the businesses that are closest to you damaging the bottom line of your digital marketing campaigns.

Affiliates and resellers which offer your good or services can occasionally stray into using your own brand terms in order to promote their deals – something which impacts your own business directly. With no direct control over their ads or their promotions, it puts the reputation of your own brand at risk, while at the same time, it can directly contribute to lost clicks for you, while pushing the CPC on your brand terms up as the auction suddenly gains more competitors.

If you’re not using competitive intelligence to help manage your paid search, make sure you monitor your brand term CPCs closely over time to look for unusual spikes or strange patterns that could indicate someone else is bidding on them – whether friend or foe, neither is helpful.

Learn From The Wars of the Roses

According to the law, companies are able to bid on branded trademarks, provided they do not dilute, tarnish or adversely affect the original trademark. It’s a ruling that provides enough flexibility to mean brand infringement can be actionable in many cases, for example, in the long-running saga of Interflora and Marks & Spencer, which has been rumbling through the courts since 2008. For some time, M&S has bid on Interflora’s brand terms in order to market its own floral products, which Interflora claimed took clicks, and revenue, from their own business, with consumers led to believe M&S were providing Interflora products. A trial originally ruled that M&S had infringed; however, in December 2014, an appeal from M&S was granted, and an injunction from Interflora to prevent M&S from continuing the practice until a retrial was held was turned down. The long-running case is one the most high-profile examples of brand infringement, and proves how seriously the subject should be taken. Of course, no one wants to end up in a protracted, and no doubt expensive, court battle unnecessarily, so proper vigilance can help nip these problems in the bud.

Understand How It Works In Your Market

Thankfully for those of us who wish to avoid legal action, not all cases of brand infringement result in prolonged court battles – different industries typically face different challenges, and it pays to be aware of how your own sector typically behaves. Some areas rely on so-called “gentleman’s agreements” to police brand infringements, a case of “we won’t bid on yours if you don’t bid on ours” – but just because that might apply to your own sector, remain sceptical – many people assume they are safe from infringement, until competitive intelligence shows them otherwise.

Some industries on the other hand seem particularly predisposed to infringement. Betting sites are notorious for gaining any advantage they can – for example, when one popular gaming site closed this year, other advertisers crowded in to bid on the brand overnight, in an attempt to lure in people still looking for the defunct site.

Payday lenders are also vulnerable, because regulations forbid loan companies from bidding on their own brands in an effort to limit their visibility. Wonga has been the victim of many smaller rivals using terms such as “Wonga loan” in their own ads, which deprives them of customers and risks damaging their reputation. Make sure you know how your own industry operates, and prepare accordingly.

Competitive intelligence has shown that brand infringement is a regular issue for companies using bidding platforms like Google AdWords, with potential threats coming from all sides. While not every business will be the victim of malicious brand infringement, it can be a thorn in the side of campaigns in many more subtle ways, and staying alert can help head any of these threats off before they become a real threat to either your reputation, or your bottom line.

Alex Rigler - Adthena

Alex Rigler - Adthena


Alex Rigler, head of customer insight at Adthena