For the last couple of years, we have used BrandVerity’s Paid Search Monitoring tool to examine brand bidding during the busiest online shopping days of the year – Black Friday through Cyber Monday. We set up monitoring on some of the most anticipated gifts of the holiday season and see how advertisers take advantage of the holiday search volume surge to attract clicks. In many cases, we find ads that mislead customers and win commissions on unearned clicks.
Last year, we wrote about our findings related to Apple Airpods, Amazon Echo, Hatchimals, and Super Mario Odyssey. Of all the ads we collected during the Black Friday rush last year, the most egregious examples of trademark abuse were those related to Super Mario Brothers brand terms. What we found wasn’t just brand bidding, but intellectual property theft. Two advertisers, in particular, JoyLand and UGameZone, were bidding on many different variations of “super mario games” to draw people into a free game experience.
When we heard that Nintendo was suing the owners of two ROM websites (LoveROMS.com and LoveRETRO.co) for copyright and trademark infringement, we weren’t surprised. The complaint stated: “The LoveROMS and LoveRETRO websites are among the most open and notorious online hubs for pirated video games. Through the websites, the defendants reproduce, distribute, publicly perform, and display a staggering number of unauthorized copies of Nintendo’s video games, all without Nintendo’s permission.”
But before we continue, you be asking, “What are ROM websites?” Robin Burks at Screen Rant explains: “In video games, ROM emulation involves copying game data from a ROM chip to a hard disk or drive. ROM emulation software allows that data to run on computers that it would not run on otherwise.” These sites are especially popular among gamers looking to play retro games. Fans of these sites feel they are preserving cult games and causing little financial harm to the multi-million dollar gaming industry.
In November, it was announced that Nintendo won an excess of $12 million in a judgment against LoveROMS.com and LoveRETRO.co. The publication TorrentFreak speculated that the husband and wife team who owned the two sites would likely not be able to pay the $12 million fine and that the purpose of the high penalty was to deter other site operators. For some, the steep penalty is working. EmuParadise, one of the largest retro emulator and ROM sites on the Internet has already shut down its library of games, saying that the financial risk of continuing was too great.
When we compiled the list of this year’s popular gifts for our Black Friday monitoring, as in years past, Nintendo and Super Mario Brothers-related gifts topped the list. But this time, so soon after an expensive lawsuit, we predicted there would be very little competitor brand bidding on Nintendo-related terms and that we wouldn’t find the full websites of free Nintendo-like games like we did last year.
Our hypothesis was incorrect. Despite Nintendo’s successful action against the two high-profile sites, brand bidding and piracy persist.
For example, our BrandVerity tool found a search in Google using the terms “super mario game” and this query resulted in this ad:
Clicking on the ad takes you here:
This is clearly not an authorized copy of Super Mario Run and is exactly the type of site that Nintendo wants to shut down.
In another example we found using the BrandVerity tool, also on Google, the search term was “super mario bros.” This ad showed up on the SERP:
Clicking on this UGameZone ad brings you here:
Regardless of what you think about these websites (champions of retro gaming or online pirates) it’s impossible to deny that through the proliferation of these sites, it is much more difficult for Nintendo, the brand owner, to maintain control of the brand journey and user experience.
While you can do some manual searches to find examples of brand abuse, for every blatant example you find, there are thousands more that you need a tool like BrandVerity’s to help you track them down. Advertisers trying to siphon traffic away from your brand use evasive techniques to avoid detection like geo-targeting and day-party, making them very difficult to find.
Companies spend millions of dollars building their brand. With all the the resources and money going into building your brand online, having a tool that can monitor and detect who is targeting your brand can offer peace of mind and protect your investment.
Holiday shopping is not over yet, and there is still time to see who is targeting your brand and take action against trademark infringements. Request a demo today, and we will set up an account using keywords of your choice.