Global brand management just got harder

August 12, 2010

Add another thing to think about in managing a global brand: Beware folks hi-jacking your brand name through Google AdSense.

Already removed in the US, Google’s AdSense is eliminating its restrictions in Europe on third-party advertisers to bid on branded and trademarked keywords. For Google, it means a larger stream of revenue. For brand owners, it means either increased cost or more vigilant management. In short, unless they buy their own brand, their brand could be damaged by a Google advertiser using the name with ill intent.

As a luxury line of products and a luxury brand, Cartier makes a good example. If a third-party advertiser uses the Cartier brand name to sell used, broken, or knockoff versions of the Cartier watch, the brand reputation takes a hit. Unless companies like Cartier constantly police the use of their brand in online advertising, anything could happen.

That’s not to say that every third-party advertiser plans to use brand names with ill intent. Those bad seeds are more the exception. Nevertheless, it’s a real danger: It doesn’t take much to tarnish a brand in the eyes of a potential customer.

In all fairness, if a brand owner identifies a counterfeit advertiser, Google will take them off AdSense accordingly. But only when an advertiser is contested. If a company doesn’t take the time and energy to check into who’s using their brand names, a counterfeit advertiser could slip through the proverbial cracks.

As I said, Google already allows this in North America and some of Europe, so the practice is here to stay. The lesson for brand owners is to maintain vigilance over your brands. Just because you have a trademark on it, doesn’t mean that your reputation is protected.

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