Google screengrab

I’ve previously written blog posts and articles about some ethical dilemmas that face small businesses, particularly web companies, in the last few years, such as my posts about design theft particularly around websites copying our work. There’s another topic that I’ve now had some personal experience with; using trademarks or business names in advertising on Google results.

But first some quick background for those less web savvy. Google has a great system called AdWords, which we’ve worked with before, having used it for advertising both our business, as well as on behalf of a number of our clients. Basically, you can define what keywords and phrases you want to display your advertisement under, and craft an appropriate advertisement to show.

It’s all pay-per-click, so it’s low risk (if you know what you’re doing!), and can be great for short term promotions and the like.

Now, in the past, we’ve had clients become excited when you say they can choose the phrases the ad will appear under. For example, in our own case, we’ve used terms such as ‘Web design perth’, ‘website design perth’, ‘perth web design’ and so on.

It doesn’t take long for a few people to realise that you could do the nasty on a competitor by using their trademarks, business or product names as your target terms. Thankfully, this is where Google has a fairly good trademark policy in place. Not only is it unethical (which our clients normally quickly admit), it is against Google AdWords policy.

I’m not a lawyer, but it looks like it could be against Australian law, as claimed in that famous case a few years ago ‘Trading Post v ACCC’, where the ACCC said that using a competitor’s trademark to target AdWords campaigns was considered misleading conduct.

So it came as somewhat a surprise recently to find out that two of our fellow Western Australian web design companies are doing the same thing to us.

See the screen grab above – when you search on Google Australia for “bam creative” you’ll currently see two advertisements targeting a trademark and company name which Bam Creative Pty Ltd owns.

On one hand, it could be considered flattery they’d go to all that trouble to target people searching our company name, however on the other, people could say it could be called devious, misleading and possibly, illegal.

What do you think? Is this sort of advertising fair game or not? Comments welcome!

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