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Monday, March 9, 2009

A Take on Utah's Ban on Trademark Triggered PPC Ads

A recent article by Wendi Davis over at Media Post caught my attention. I have been following this case for a couple of years and the possible impact it can have on the Pay-per-Click advertising medium. The Utah House has passed a bill banning using trademarks to trigger pay-per-click advertising.

At the surface this seems reasonable. Companies have worked hard to register and build their trademarks. Thus allowing someone to hijack that brand awareness when someone types in that trademark into a search engine seems unfair. For instance, if someone types in the name of a local pizza establishment but Pizza Hut has bought that establishment's name and targeted an ad there that customer may be swayed to order their pizza at Pizza Hut instead. Is that unfair or is that the competitive nature of search engine results?

I think the Google lobbyists put this analogy to the Utah lawmakers last time this bill was put forward, PPC is a competitive environment similar to a supermarket. People go to search out their favorite frozen pizza but then are confronted with a host of other options, some that are cheaper and some that have more toppings. They are given the opportunity to know that their are other options other than the Red Barron pizza they were after. In fact rack space within that supermarket freezer is a valuable commodity that is constantly being fought for. Who gets the eye-level rack space? I don't know how they figure that out but it is usually NOT the generic startup frozen pizza company. Does that make it unfair to the consumer, should the consumer have to type in the brand name it is looking for at the start of an isle so that he is not presented with other options? "No!" you say, "That would be ridiculous you are over simplifying things."
OK, but lets look at the searcher's intent. If their intent is only to find the brand name that they just typed in what makes you think that the ad copy above that Natural ranking position will sway them from their desired result. If they are swayed by that ad doesn't that suggest that they are open to other brand choices or at least curious about what else is out there?
I guess the main point I am getting at is that if people are truly searching specifically for a brand they will not be swayed by the ads above the optimized listing for the brands trademark. They will easily find what they are looking for unless they don't know what they are looking for and are using the trademark as a stepping stone to finding what they truly want, cheap and good tasting pizza!

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