A blog on using the power of Disruptive Business Models to build successful businesses...and other stuff. by Joe Agliozzo

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Search Engine Strategies Chicago - 2004

We were invited to speak at SES Chicago on the subject of Creating Compelling Ads and Landing Pages. The panel and the show in general were very good, with plenty of interesting ideas for improving both online ads and search engine optimization performance. We emphasized the value of testing (of course) and our case studies seemed to generate quite a bit of interest from the audience.

Also interesting was the panel discussing use of trademarks in PPC advertising. There were strong feelings on both sides, with trademark holders obviously feeling "ripped off" and advocates of free and broad search capabilities feeling that there is a bit of "big brother" censorship looming over the industry. In my opinion, it is not the trademark purchase that is the issue, but rather the content of the ad that appears on the results page. If that ad is clearly NOT placed by the trademark holder (in the eyes of the viewer) then there should be no liability. This is the same as the doctrine of comparison advertising in any other media. On the other hand, if the ad misleads the viewer into clicking on the ad thinking it has been placed by the trademark holder, that should give rise to liability. Meanwhile, you can avoid the hard questions about what should "show up" on a page when a particular word is used as a search term by a user.

Another interesting question raised was "Should Google be able to make money from "selling" my trademarked term? Aside from the question of what indices of ownership a trademark conveys (meaning not only the product or service the word is attached to, but also how the word is used), there is also the question of whether the user of the word itself to generate revenue, rather than using the word to sell a competing product or service somehow creates liability. I confess that I can't remember my law school cases in this area (I seem to fuzzily recall something about the word "Olympic" and that the IOC, as owner of the trademark had been able to prevent all sorts of companies from using the term as part of their company name, but I am not sure if even that situation is analogous to Google's.).

Of course, the day after the panel, Google was found (at least for now) NOT to be liable for selling Geico's trademarks (although the ruling appears to be based on the lack of facts supporting confusion, rather than any broader finding that there is no liability for this type of conduct, which you would expect from a trial court). The real law will be made at the appellate level.

PPC advertising continues to evolve in all areas, including not only effectiveness of the ads, but also the legal claims and consequences surrounding the medium.