Six Search Engine Visibility Risks: Why Monitoring Your Brand Is A Primary Business Concern
Search Engines Allow Criminals, Customers, Competitors, Independent Representatives, Employees, And The News Media, To Counterfeit, Dilute, Defame, Erode, Infringe, And Malign Your Brand. What steps are you taking to monitor and protect your brand?
Search engines are a perfect place for criminals to engage in illegal business practices online. The internet provides anonymity, global reach, a low barrier to market entry (little to no startup cost), no verification of credentials, and ease with which to misappropriate brand IP assets.
Counterfeit, pirated, and knock-off merchandise are traded on Google, Yahoo, and MSN is if they were a virtual extension of China. I can understand the inability for search engines to police the natural results of their algorithm, but to allow/make money from the advertising of illegal trade is mind boggling.
In the screenshot below, we take a look at search results for the search “fake Oakley sunglasses,” also known as “Foakleys,” by consumers. It is very disturbing to see Yahoo Shopping as the first result of advertisements on Google.
2. Trademark Dilution.
Trademark dilution is a trademark law concept forbidding the use of a famous trademark in a way that would lessen its uniqueness. In the search engines, trademark dilution involves an unauthorized use of another’s trademark in the “Sponsored Links” results. While Google gives brands the option to halt the practice, Yahoo & MSN give little to no protection.
In the screenshot below we take a look at the results for “Dell” on Yahoo. Dell is able to stop unauthorized parties from using their trademark in Google ads, but it is a much different story on Yahoo. Dilution runs rampant here with a particularly egregious example highlighted below–can anybody tell me what eBay Motors has to do with Dell Computers?
Your right, nothing. The landing page on eBay Motors featured zero results for Dell. They are diluting the trademark and unfairly leveraging the IP asset of an unrelated entity to siphon traffic. Ultimately, it should be the right of the trademark owner to determine if it will allow third parties to use their name in advertisements, not the search engines.
An article on Consumerist.com entitled “27 Confessions Of A Former Circuit City Worker” was Dugg 3,027 times and netted an additional 270 comments on Digg. This story was as viral as it gets for a couple weeks in June.
Why the buzz? The employee explained in detail how the prices of extended warranties and accessories are negotiable as well as other insider info such as this recommendation:
“If you want to try and save money, get an expensive protection plan and return it. The most expensive protection plan I remember seeing on a laptop was around $600, and when thrown on ask for a big discount, expect up to 150 to be knocked off the price of the computer. Then as soon as possible, return the protection plan, and keep the discount on the computer. All discount will always be applied to the product, not the protection plan itself.”
The former employee goes on to cast aspersions about Circuit City policies and procedures and reveal trade secrets. In the screenshot below we take a look at a search for “Circuit City” on Google:
4. Brand Erosion
In my first (and only, to date) full evaluation of a brand, I assessed Jiffy Lube. In my eyes Jiffy Lube is a prima facie example of Brand Erosion in the search engines. Customer complaints and an investigative NBC report yield first page visibility for the search “Jiffy Lube” on Google.
The screenshot below displays the results, with instances of Band Erosion highlighted.
5. Trademark Infringement.
Trademark infringement in the search engines is largely defined by where you live. In Europe, Google is limited in allowing third parties from even advertising on registered trademarks. In the U.S. and Canada, Google does allow third parties to advertise on trademarks, but empowers brands to halt the use of trademarks by unauthorized parties in the heading or copy of search engine advertisements.
Then there is the issue of jurisdiction. Some states feature “unfair use” or “unfair business practice” in their trademark law which would appear to protect a brand from a direct competitor advertising on their trademark. This year, new legislation in Utah gave birth to the Utah Trademark Protection Act, which views the practice of advertising on a competitor’s trademark in the search engines as “corporate identity theft.”
Below is a screenshot which displays the lame attempt by the auto brand Infiniti to siphon traffic on the Google search “BMW.”
I am amazed to see the words “suck” and “sucks” allowed to be used in Yahoo and Google search engine advertisements–why even risk your business model by inviting litigation? There are several other forms of brand malignment as well.
In the example below we take a look at the search results for “MonaVie testimonials” in Google. MonaVie is a network marketing brand that features a health drink by the same name. MonaVie is in a tremendous state of growth and features a force of independent distributors that directly sell MonaVie products to the public.
The title of the ad states “MonaVie Fight Cancer Now.” This advertisement is dangerous to the wellbeing of the MonaVie brand because the products have not been evaluated by the FDA, and thus may not claim to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition.
While the ad goes to great lengths to promote the MonaVie brand, the independent distributor is actually maligning the brand by risking non-compliance sanctioning potentially posed by the FDA or FTC.
Learn how to manage threats to your Brand Real Estate on the search engines. Are there other risks to frequently searched brands? I’m sure there are. Please comment or send me any you have experienced.
Technorati tags: search engine risks, trademark infringement online, brand erosion