Can I Use A Trade Mark In Google Ads?

Millions of businesses all over the world use Google Ads as a successful way of finding new customers via keywords.  But online advertising is also a highly competitive space and multiple businesses are often targeting the same customers.  Google Ads uses keywords to attract ‘clicks’ to websites, which means getting the keywords right is pivotal to success.  

This brings us to the important question of whether you can use a competitor’s trade mark in your Google Ads campaign to direct traffic to your website.  Is it legal?  Is it ethical?  Can you stop anyone from using your registered trade mark to direct customers to their website?

Let’s start by first explaining how Google Ads work and then we’ll work through some Frequently Asked Questions about the use of a competitor’s trade mark in your online advertising campaign.

What are Google Ads and how do they work?

Google Ads are paid advertisements which appear in the search results pages.  You can distinguish between a paid ad and an organic search result by the prefix ‘Ad’ which appears in bold type in front of the website address.  For example, if you enter the keywords ‘plumber Perth’, several Google Ads for various plumbing businesses appear at the top of the search results.  

Advertisers choose a list of keywords relevant to the goods or services that their business offers and the words or phrases that people would be likely to enter into Google when they’re doing a search for that particular business offering.  The advertiser then bids on these keywords, establishes a daily budget and decides when the campaign will start and end. When a user clicks on the ad, the advertiser pays a certain cost.

The plumbing businesses would have bid on the keyword phrase ‘plumber Perth’ in order to get their ads displayed at the top of the first page of the search results.  Another example could be a pharmacy which could bid on keywords like ‘cheap prescription drugs’ or ‘after hours chemist’.  

Does Google have a policy on trade marks in Google Ads?

Historically, advertisers were not allowed to use another business’s trade mark in their paid advertising campaigns.  However, Google Australia recently changed its policy, making it easier for businesses to use competitors’ trade marks in their paid ads.  In fact, it’s now become common practice.  But there’s a catch.

You may be allowed to use someone else’s registered trade mark as a keyword when buying your Google Ads, but you are not allowed to use it in the text or description of the advertisement or in the headline of that ad.  However, if you get permission from the owner of that trade mark and from Google, you can use in your ads.  We’ll go into how you do that later in the article.

The other good news is that you can register your own trade mark with Google (the proviso being that you need to already own a registered your trade mark or have rights to that registered trade mark).  Once you’ve done this, your registered trade mark will be automatically disapproved if anyone else tries to use it anywhere as a keyword in Google Ads.

Any digital marketing expert worth their salt would strongly encourage businesses to register their trade marks with Google to protect the intellectual property and their bottom-lines. 

How do I register a trade mark with Google?

Once your term has been registered as a trade mark by IP Australia, you need to complete Google’s Trade Mark Authorisation form.  Once this form has been submitted, Google then automatically prevents any competitor from using that same term in their Google Ads.  However, it is important to remember that the ‘exclusion zone’ is only for ads targeted at the same industry as yours.  An advertiser can use the same registered trade mark as yours provided you are not both competing for the same customers or market.

Do I need to register my own trade mark with Google?

Yes.  If you intend using your trade mark in your own online advertising, you will have to submit a separate Authorisation Form.  Failure to do this could result in Google disapproving your ads as well.

When is it OK to use a competitor’s trade mark in a Google Ads campaign?

It is legal to use a competitor’s trade mark as a keyword or keyword phrase in your Google Ads campaign as long as is not visible in the ad that the searcher sees.  However, you are allowed to use a competitor’s registered trade mark in your ‘display URL’ because this is not considered by Google to be ‘text’.  

The display URL is not the same as the homepage’s domain.  The display URL is the entire string of information appearing in an ad which relates to a particular webpage (https://www.mmwtrademarks.com.au/blog/what-is-a-trade-mark-and-why-does-my-business-need-one/), whereas the domain name is only a section of the URL and is shorter, more user-friendly and easily identifiable (mmwtrademarks.com.au).

For example, Mercedes Benz Australia may want to bid on ‘BMW’ or ‘Audi’ as a keyword for a Google Ad.  They would be within their rights to do so, provided they didn’t use their competitors’ registered trade marks in their advertisement’s heading, text or description.

However, if someone registers their trade mark with Google, no-one else is able to use it in Google Ads anywhere.

Requesting permission to use someone else’s trade mark in Google Ads

But let’s say you have a second-hand motor dealership and you need to use multiple vehicle brand names in your ads.  You can apply to the owners of those registered trade marks (eg Holden) to authorise the use of the keywords in your Google Ads campaign. The owner of the trade mark would have to follow a formal process through Google.

Similarly, if someone else wants to use your registered trade mark in their ads, they can follow a process via Google Ads Phone Support to get in touch with you to request your permission.   Google would share the email address that you provided when submitting your Authorisation Form – and they would then contact you.  Should you approve, the final requirement on your behalf would be to submit a further Authorisation Form to Google which includes the CID of their ads.   

But, with trade marks, there’s aways a ‘but’ – which is why the expert advice of a qualified trade marks attorney is always best when it comes to navigating this complex and ever-changing field.  The ‘but’ is that if you use someone else’s registered trade mark in a sponsored ad, you may still fall foul of the Australian Consumer Law(the ACL).  Breaches of the ACL and trade mark infringement are serious matters and it is not always worth taking these chances.

What should I be doing as a registered trade mark owner?

Google is always investigating and implementing ways of improving the user experience.  This was the key motivating factor behind its decision to revise its Google Ads policy to allow the use of competitive keywords in certain elements of the ads.  

Google does not monitor for infringements but it will investigate complaints.  Its policy states that it doesn’t ‘restrict or investigate the use of trade marks as keywords’ but if you believe that someone has used your trade mark inappropriately, you can lodge a complaint with Google and request that the ad be removed.  

Ultimately, the onus is on you as a registered trade mark owner to be vigilant about your asset and to safeguard it.  Keep a close eye on your competitors to ascertain if they are using your trade mark in their keyword bidding or online sponsored advertising campaigns and if you suspect possible misuse or infringement, you should take action.

So, should you use another person’s trade mark in your Google Ads?

Many businesses rightly assume that registering a trade mark protects it from being used by others, but they are unaware of the potential opportunity to use another person’s registered trade mark in their Google Ads.  The reality is that you can use trade marks that you don’t actually own in your keyword bidding strategy for Google Ads unless those trade marks have been registered with Google.  The caveat is always that it is worthwhile getting the tick of approval from a trade marks specialist before going ahead.

For more advice on trade marks get in touch with Jacqui at Mark My Words Trademarks Services