Brand Protection Online: 11 Graphic Examples Of Brand Abuse Online
Online brand protection initiatives serve two purposes. First and foremost, to protect the consumer. And second, to maintain the integrity and equity of a carefully nurtured brand.
Addressing threats to your brand on the internet is a primary business concern and the consequences of multiple brand abuse issues online can loom much larger than singular incidents of unauthorized sales, counterfeiting, cybersquatting, trademark dilution, or a gripe site making unpleasant claims.
The threat of aggregate brand abuse can fuel a tipping point of how your brand is perceived, affecting the brand’s reputation, and thus, equity, worth, or value.
Can you think of a brand whose reputation met a tipping point at which there was no return? I worked for one called Pan Am, aka, Pan American World Airways, that went under in 1991.
While I will always have a fond memory of the big blue ball I can tell you that working as a flight attendant for an airline that had very negative associations with customer service, safety, and financial stability was a rough experience the last couple of years–maybe that explains my intuitive role now as a brand advocate.
And now, on with the list…
1. Brand Erosion
The slow but deadly brand killer. It is easy for disgruntled customers, clients, employees, or deceptive competitors to publish negative experiences or content about your company’s products and services.
The following example is particularly painful for me to look at–there are so many ”bad practices” in play. How do you politely refer to a company’s search marketing strategy as a complete and total nightmare?
Let’s just say it has nowhere to go but up–I strongly advise the leadership to reevaluate by performing some due diligence and seeking out the advice of fellow practitioners or consultants. In fact, I would happily give them some pro bono assistance at their request!
The parent company is Cellular Research and the brand is Dual Action Cleanse. If you haven’t heard of the Dual Action Cleanse, than you have successfully evaded the mesmerizing push advertising campaigns known as infomercials.
This screenshot below displays the search results on Google for the query “Dual Action Cleanse:”
The Dual Action Cleanse is pilloried in both the natural and paid listings of first page brand real estate. Note that the brand’s own website doesn’t even rank at the top of natural rankings. One of the reasons for this is a detrimental strategy. They feature a minimum of five identical websites using the following domains:
The search engines view duplicate content/mirror sites as spam and will penalize you for it. In addition, the inbound links generated to their products and information are being split between multiple sites, therefore diluting DAC’s visibility in the search engines.
DAC has not taken steps to block unauthorized parties from using their trademark in the heading and text of Google ads–learn how to accomplish this by downloading our Brand Command white paper. Not only does this create confusion, but it increases the odds for third parties to convert traffic.
DAC also makes the mistake of allowing affiliates to use their trademark within a domain name. An example is www.buydualactioncleanse.com.
On a side note, why would search engines allow ads that refer to the trademark as a scam in order to sell a competing product? That’s just wrong.
Cybersquatting is the registering, trafficking in, or using a domain name with bad-faith intent to profit from the goodwill of a trademark belonging to another entity. This is one of the more common threats to well-known brands and should be a high priority for your brand protection plan online. In the example below, we take a look at the domain www.buy-playstation-3.com, which was registered by a party other than Sony.
In this example, the unauthorized domain owner has published a website that is using the Sony trademark “Playstation 3″ for commercial gain. The site doesn’t even make mention of the Sony Playstation 3, and appears to sell both Xbox and Playstation products.
Typosquatting is a form of Cybersquatting that utilizes various typographical errors within the name of a trademark.
In the example below, the screenshot displays the domain www.americajexpress.com. The website is programmed to serve Google ads and is set up to capture individuals accidentally mistyping www.americanexpress.com directly.
Naturally, the individual will intuitively click on the first sponsored result, www.americanexpress.com. An all too common scam, the criminal and Google share in the revenue while American Express pays for every click-through.
4. Brand Siphoning
On the surface it makes sense for direct selling and network marketing brands to utilize affiliates and web-savvy reps to generate revenues in the search engines for branded searches. This is a big no-no for multiple reasons. Here are a few:
A. Loss of revenue
B. Inconsistent brand message
C. Inconsistent brand aesthetics, often unprofessional
D. False or deceptive claims and guarantees prompted by competing reps
E. Inconsistent pricing
F. Compliance issues related to income or product claims
More reasons, specifically for my example below, Herbalife:
G. Unfair playing field in the eyes of Herbalife distributors who take the time to present Herbalife products to prospects, only to find the prospect has purchased from a distributor online.
H. The web-savvy distributors are only in it for the quick retail score–they don’t follow up with highly motivated leads.
I. Many web-savvy distributors also sell the products of direct competitors on the same website!
The screenshot below displays the search results on Google for the query “Herbalife” (Incidentally, there were thirteen pages of Google ads for this search). Note that Herbalife corporate has no presence in the sponsored results.
There is a solution.
the leadership of Herbalife understands the current risks and the upside of a policy change, they will take back their precious brand, engage consumers directly, and assign direct retail customers and leads to independent distributors participating in a paid lead program, easily created and managed by corporate, and garnering positive ROI. This is a process our company has been very successful at executing.
By doing this, Herbalife would accomplish several things:
A. Control brand messaging and creative
B. Ensure federal, state, and company compliance
C. Create an even playing field for Herbalife distributors
D. Create a new profit center by selling highly targeted prospects to highly motivated independent distributors
Voila! No more brand siphoning, and you’ve increased to the bottom line.
5. Traffic Diversion
Traffic Diversion occurs when any third party places ads for your trademarks (company name, products, etc.) on the search engines. These ads dilute your brand and divert traffic away from your web assets. Because Google offers a policy to halt the use of trademarks in the heading or text of an ad, the vast majority of these offenses occur on Yahoo.
The screenshot below highlights the search results in Yahoo for the query “Chase bank.” The third parties advertising on the Chase trademark are composed of loan websites, a credit card lead generation site, and of course, eBay.
The third ad down on the right side of the screenshot attempts to divert traffic by claiming “Instant Car Loans – All Credit Approved.” When the naive visitor clicks on the link, they are directed to a landing page that features a convertible BMW, and then an application form. This site is nothing more than a lead generation scheme, leveraging the Chase trademark for business development.
The entire dietary supplement industry is under the scrutiny of the FDA regarding illegal health claims. A popular health beverage company by the name of XanGo received a warning letter last September from the FDA for what it considered to be claims promoting their product for the “cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease,” thereby positioning the product as a drug in the eyes of the agency.
The FDA’s letter included a long list of health claims the FDA says it found in nine XanGo brochures promoting the health benefits of mangosteen and mangosteen juice:
– “One study showed mangosteen extract was a more potent anti-inflammatory agent than several prescription anti-inflammatory medications currently used for arthritis and gout.”
– “Prevents hardening of the arteries, Anti-Parkinson, Anti-Alzheimer and other forms of dementia, Anti-depressant, Mangosteen helps in the prevention of cancer with its powerful anti-oxidants and Lowers blood pressure.”
– “Another way mangosteen keeps the cells and glands of the endocrine system working properly is by fighting off infection.”
– “The xanthones in mangosteen have been shown to inhibit both bacteria (including strains of the staphylococcus bacteria that were antibiotic resistant) and viruses (such as HIV-1).”
In its warning letter to XanGo, the FDA noted the claims position the product as a drug, and as such, it has not been approved; marketing of an unapproved new drug can lead to enforcement action.
XanGo was given 15 working days from the Sept. 20 warning letter to detail the steps it will take to “prevent your distributors from promoting your product in a manner that violates the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.”
The compliance threat XanGo faces online is all of the distributor-published health claims displayed on their independently owned websites that sell XanGo.
The screenshot below displays the search results in Google for the query “XanGo health benefits.” The very first result presents the claim “…can help with cancer.” It is examples like this that can shut down XanGo’s billion dollar operation overnight.
The way to eliminate and mitigate the online compliance threats is to monitor the web–search engines, blog engines, news engines, social media sites, etc., for illegal XanGo claims. Once identified, XanGo’s legal team can take steps to address violators and illegal content. To learn more about our online brand protection services, submit an inquiry.
Back in May of this year the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cautioned U.S. consumers about the proliferation of foreign websites selling counterfeit pharmaceuticals.
In the example below we take a look at www.brandpills.net, a website cited by the government as a counterfeiter.
On multiple occasions, the FDA received information that counterfeit versions of Xenical 120 mg capsules, a drug manufactured by Hoffmann-La Roche Inc., were obtained by consumers.
Xenical is an FDA-approved drug used to help obese individuals who meet certain weight and height requirements lose weight and maintain weight loss. None of the capsules ordered off the Web sites contained orlistat, the active ingredient in authentic Xenical.
In fact, laboratory analysis conducted by Roche and submitted to the FDA confirmed that one capsule contained sibutramine, which is the active ingredient in Meridia, an FDA-approved prescription drug manufactured by Abbott Laboratories.
While this product is also used to help people lose weight and maintain that loss, it should not be used in certain patient populations and therefore is not a substitute for other weight loss products. In addition the drug interactions profile is different between Xenical and sibutramine, as is the dosing frequency; sibutramine is administered once daily while Xenical is dosed three times a day.
Not only is Roche vulnerable to revenue loss and reputation issues, but counterfeiting in this case can be deadly for unsuspecting consumers.
Generally speaking, phishing is primarily a threat to financial services companies. Phishing ploys are not only targeted at consumers, but to employees as well, designed to extract account information, passwords, and even trade secrets.
The example below displays a screenshot of a documented phishing effort targeted at PNC Bank customers. Obviously, victims of this scam (the account holders and the bank) were vulnerable to immediate and costly criminal theft.
9. Copyright Violations
While the copyright news of the day is focused on Viacom v. YouTube, let’s tak
e a look at an issue that faces almost every brand online at one time or another; content theft.
It is important to actively monitor and identify unauthorized parties utilizing your collateral or content on unrelated websites. Aside from presenting duplicate content to search engines, this practice can give the appearance of false associations and is outright IP theft.
The screenshot below displays an “ironical” example of identical copy being used on two unrelated company websites.
1. From Franklin Covey’s PlanPlus Services page: http://planplusonline.com/services_overview
“The PlanPlus™ Online Professional Services Group is committed to making every customer successful—and just as dedicated to keeping PlanPlus Online the most robust, yet easiest-to-use solution on the market. PlanPlus Online also provides a full range of complementary client services that maximize this product’s capabilities for your unique needs.”
2. From Omniture’s Services page: http://www.omniture.com/services
“Omniture is committed to making every customer successful—and just as dedicated to keeping SiteCatalyst™ the most robust, yet easiest-to-use solution on the market. Omniture also provides a full range of complementary client services that maximize this product’s capabilities for your unique needs.”
10. Unauthorized Sales
Gray market and unauthorized sales channels can compromise the integrity of a brand and can create rancor amongst authorized vendors and reps who follow corporate guidelines and pricing structures.
Swiss skin care company, Arbonne International, has a strict online sales policy for it’s force of independent representatives–no sales activity on eBay. It is an arduous task to enforce this policy because eBay will not apply another company’s policy to their business model.
eBay does offer a trademark/copyright protection program called VeRO, which is an acronym for Verified Rights Owner. The VeRO program allows brands to request the removal of listings which feature the use of IP assets–images, logos, and text.
11. False Association
False Associations can be conveyed using trademarked domains (cybersquatting) as well as text or logos that suggest or imply some type of business relationship.
The screenshot below displays the search results on Yahoo for the query “Tiffany & Co.” The three highlighted ads all feature domains displaying the Tiffany trademark. The false association threat here creates the likelihood of confusion and poses a threat to the brand.
The last ad on the right, www.tiffanytrinkets.com, offers Tiffany “inspired” jewelry in the form of replicas. This is blatant trademark infringement.
Companies that ignore threats to their brand online have a lot at stake:
– Legal Liability
– Corporate Revenues
– Consumer Trust
– Consumer Safety
– Consumer Satisfaction
– Brand Equity
Contact our team to learn more about protecting your brand.
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