Understanding Trademark Rules and Owning Your Brand Voice

Ulla Saleh Aug 26, 2019

I caught up with Christi Olson, Head of Evangelism for Search at Microsoft at the leading search conference MozCon. In her presentation, “What Voice Means for Search Marketers,” Christi provided an overview of Microsoft’s 2019 Voice Report and offered suggestions on how to prepare for the growing prevalence of voice search. Her presentation focused on voice search usage and how to adapt your strategy to take advantage of voice search adoption.

While MozCon focuses on SEO and organic search, Christi’s presentation raised many questions for those of us interested in paid search and brand protection. Christi was kind enough to answer my questions.

Is there an opportunity for more companies today to pay more attention to their brand investments online? What is missing?

Brand advertising has gotten to be really interesting because the search engines have put the onus on brand owners to enforce their trademarks. A decade ago, trademark infringement was managed and enforced by the search engines. But today, trademark owners are encouraged to first engage directly with advertisers who they believe are misusing their trademarks before requesting that the search engine review potential trademark concerns. That is why it’s even more important today for brands to monitor their trademarks so they can actively reach out to address them and then alert search engines about trademark abuse.

How familiar are digital marketers with search engine trademark rules?

Most paid search managers don’t know all of the rules around trademark use in paid search. For example, if an authorized reseller of Levis uses the branded term “Levis” in their ad copy, that is not considered trademark infringement on Bing, or Google for that matter. However, if I was only selling a competitor's brand of jeans but the ad copy said “Levi’s”, it would be considered trademark infringement because it’s not correctly representing the product available for sale. Similarly, in the case of a brand that doesn’t have authorized resellers, like Moz, most paid search ads using the branded term “Moz” either in their copy or title, would be considered infringement and the ad would be eligible to be removed. Brands need to know the rules and need to proactively police and enforce their trademarks online.

What do you think is the most important thing people can do today to protect their investments online?

As I mentioned before, make sure you know the search engine’s trademark rules. Be proactive in reaching out to request any infringing company to remove or update their ads. Lastly, if all else fails, contact the search engines when competitors or partners infringe on your trademark. If you don’t protect your brand, no one else will!

Outside of paid search, it’s also critical to know your brand voice and the content that relates to your product. Don’t let your competitors or disgruntled customers control that conversation. What do I mean? Monitor how others are talking about your product in their reviews, and when applicable respond and address the concerns. Things you should consider: Respond in a timely fashion. Always be polite. Be honest when mistakes were made, but you don’t have to accept responsibility for things outside of your control like traffic or the weather. Apologize as appropriate. Be respectful of their point of view (even if you disagree with it). Also remember that others can read your response online and don’t assume that if you’ve responded privately that it may not be made public.


Want to learn more about the search engine trademark rules?

Read BrandVerity's blog post: Search Engine Trademark Rules in PPC with Real-World Examples.


Topics: paid search, PPC, Brand Bidding, Trademark

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