It seems like just about everything is trademarked these days, doesn’t it? From the obvious big brands such as ‘Sony,’ to seemingly random common words such as ‘face’ (thanks, Facebook), and ‘Chicago’ (belonging to Apple), you could start wondering if we have any words left that are without a legal owner. If you’ve ever had your AdWords ads disapproved for Trademark (TM) Policy, you may have found yourself sifting through a lot of Help Center articles and Support emails, trying to figure out how to navigate what one would think to be a simple policy.
I have had some experience with this policy, I’d like to do my best to provide a quick and dirty overview, hopefully simplifying things a bit for those who feel lost. Please note, however, that Google’s TM Policy is fairly complex and differs by region, so I’ll be providing links to the official policy pages throughout. This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide, and you should always refer back to Google’s official pages or reach out to their Support Team with questions.
In the United States (meaning ads targeted to the US), the first thing to note about TM policy is that it only governs ad text, and does not affect keywords. As they mention frequently, Google wishes to allow advertisers as much freedom as possible in the selection of their keywords, and as such in this country they do not monitor trademarked terms in keywords. This means that if you are a trademark owner and are upset that a competitor’s ad is showing up when your trademarked term is entered into the Google search bar—sorry, you’re out of luck. That competitor is allowed to use your term as their keyword. Whether you agree with this or not, keep in mind that were this policy different in this regard, all advertisers would have a lot of limitations when it comes to their keyword lists, and as a result the user may suffer due to lack of choice and/or variety in sponsored results.
So, the next question to answer is that of how Google monitors trademarks in ad text. Before we jump into this, there is one very important point that should be noted:
- If you have not registered your trademarked term with Google and requested that they monitor it, your trademark will not be monitored. Period. Due to what I assume is a limitation of resources, Google does not proactively search out trademarked terms to keep on file for monitoring, and therefore you must submit a TM complaint in order to begin the monitoring process.
Once Google is aware of your trademark and is actively monitoring it, you should know that there will be people who are allowed to use it in their ads. Whether you’re a trademark owner or an advertiser who is using a trademarked term in ad text, you should familiarize yourself with the rules regarding who is allowed to use a trademark in ads:
- Ads using the term in a generic way, not referencing the TM owner or goods associated with the TM.
- Ads leading to a landing page that allows and clearly demonstrates the ability to purchase the goods/services corresponding to a TM, or that facilitates their sale.
- Ads leading to a landing page that clearly demonstrates the ability to purchase components, replacement parts, or compatible products corresponding to the TM, or that facilitates their sale.
- Ads leading to a landing page providing informative details about the goods/services corresponding to a TM, and that does not allow or facilitate their sale.
Basically, if a site is legitimately selling or facilitating the sale of the goods associated with the trademarked term (i.e. a Ford dealership’s website, and the trademarked term ‘Ford’), parts or replacements for said goods, or products closely related to these goods, it’s OK to use that term in ads. Here’s the caveat: the landing page must make it very clear that the above criteria are met. Using the same Ford example, if the dealership has a landing page that is nothing but a promotional video, and there is little to no mention of the word ‘Ford’ on that page (since all of that content is within the video itself), that page would most likely not qualify. Therefore ads using the term ‘Ford’ that lead to that landing page would be correctly disapproved for the Trademark Policy.
So, as an advertiser what are the key takeaways here?
Essentially, if you’re using a trademarked term in your ads you simply need to ensure that your landing page makes it as clear as possible that it is either allowing the user to purchase the goods or services associated with a trademarked term, or that it is providing information about said goods or services. If you feel as though you should be authorized to use a trademarked term but don’t meet the criteria, you have the option of contacting the TM owner and requesting that they submit an authorization on your behalf. Google will be able to provide you with the contact information for that person.
If you’re a TM owner, what should you walk away understanding?
- That you need to submit a TM complaint in order to ensure monitoring of your TM by Google
- Once you’ve done this your TM will only be monitored in ad text and not keywords
- There will still be folks who are allowed to use your TM. You should also probably familiarize yourself with your options in terms of filing complaints, since whether you submit a general or specific complaint will matter. But that’s another story for another day…