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Can Competitors Use My Brand Name in AdWords?

Tara West

by Tara West on 3rd January 2012

Is a competitor bidding on your brand name in Google AdWords? Or using your brand name in their ad text? This post can clarify where you stand in these situations and when you can stop this happening. It also provides advice on what to consider if you are using competitors’ names in your AdWords account.

Can a competitor use my brand name in AdWords?

The following applies to anyone advertising in the US, Canada, or the UK:

If the competitor’s AdWords landing page only talks about your brand (no others), and has a good level of informational content, they are allowed to use your brand name in their AdWords ad copy. This is because they are covered by Google’s Informational Site Policy.

If the competitor is a certified stockist of your branded products, or they clearly facilitate the sale of your branded products, they are allowed to use your brand name in their ad copy. This is the case providing that their landing page sells only your brand of products (no other brands can be on the same landing page). This is because they are covered under Google’s Reseller Policy.

Not only does this policy apply to anyone selling your branded products, but also to anyone who sells components, spare parts or compatible products for your branded products.

In both of these examples the restriction of only being able to sell or talk about one brand on the landing page is limited only to the landing page. They are able to sell or talk about other brands via other pages on their website providing they do not use these as landing pages when using your brand name within their AdWords ad copy.

Please also note that there are no restrictions on the competitor’s use of your brand name within the display URL of their ad, regardless of whether they are covered by the AdWords reseller policy or not.

If you think a competitor doesn’t fall into any of these categories and is using your brand name against Google’s advertising policies, you can report them in order to have the case investigated.

To gain permission to use a brand’s trademarks in your ads you will need to ask them to fill in this form.

Can I stop someone bidding on my brand name in Google AdWords?

Unfortunately there is no way to stop anyone bidding on your brand name. The only way Google will consider an investigation into bidding on a brand name is if the competitor isn’t covered by the re-seller policy and the ad that is triggered by it appears to be directly associated with the brand, or could be seen as confusing for the user. They will only investigate bidding on a brand name as a keyword in the following regions:

  • Australia
  • Brazil
  • China
  • Hong Kong
  • Macau
  • New Zealand
  • North Korea
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan

Can a competitor use an element of my brand design in their ads?

If you have noticed a competitor is using part of a design which you have copyrighted as part of you brand, there is unfortunately no way of reporting this for investigation by Google. This is because Google claim their advertising system is text based. Although this is true to an extent, they offer a range of display advertising options so it does seem silly that they can’t yet regulate copyright within design elements.

In this instance your best bet may be to contact the competitor directly and request that they do not use your brand design within their advertising.

What should I consider when using a competitors brand in my AdWords campaign?

If you are thinking about using a competitor brand name in your AdWords advertising, there are some things to consider in addition to copyright.

If you are bidding on competitors names as keywords, you should set up a separate campaign to use for this. Your Quality Score will be low when bidding on competitor brand names because your landing page isn’t going to be as relevant to the keyword as the official website of the brand owner. This negative effect on your Quality Score mean that you might not achieve the best average position in AdWords results, which means that your Click through Rate is going to be lower than you might expect. You will have to bid quite high on competitor names as keywords if you want to boost your Quality Score, but unfortunately that means traffic from this campaign won’t be the most cost effective. From experience, competitor campaigns also tend to have a low conversion rate, so if you do achieve conversions in this way, your Cost per Conversion is going to be high.

Bidding on competitor names can be an effective way of gaining reach and brand awareness, but I would steer clear of this tactic if you are more focused on getting a direct response such as sales or sign-ups.

Hopefully this answers any questions you’ve got about where you stand if a competitor is using your brand name in AdWords, or if you are considering using a competitor’s brand name. If you have any other questions you can tweet me @Koozai_Tara, view our PPC management page, or leave your comments below.


Tara West

Tara West

Tara West is an experienced SEO and PPC specialist at Koozai, with particular expertise within AdWords PPC and Remarketing. She has worked on a wide variety of verticals, from plumbing and travel to fashion and beauty.

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  • Rick 16th April 2012

    Tara, what if i want to use a brand name as a keyword in Google display network? Do the same guidelines apply? Also, if i use image ads which don’t mention the brand name but just using brand names to expand campaign keywords to get more traffic? How does this affect me if i am not a reseller of the brand but just looking to leverage there name to get more traffic. Do the same rules apply or can i get away with this?

    Reply to this comment

    • Tara West

      Tara 17th April 2012

      Hi Rick, thanks for your comment. I believe that you do not need to be a re-seller or have informational content on your landing page if you are just using the competitors name as a keyword (in the display or search network), and not using it within your actual ads. So this sounds absolutely fine. Hope this helps.

      Reply to this comment

    • Marketeer 31st March 2014

      Google: Virgin Australia

      You will see that there are no adwords, other than possibly one from Virgin. This is because Virgin police their brand equity. Why should Virgin pay a 3rd party a commission on a flight sale, when they have their own website for people looking for ‘Virgin’ or ‘Virgin Flights’? Virgin are happy for their resellers to buy adwords for say “cheap flights” or say “flights from Sydney to Brisbane”, not for the Virgin brand. All companies should police their brand and if competitors or re-sellers are purchasing it in a way that you do not like, you have every right to send them a legal letter. Google might not police it, however the courts will. Brands take years to build – do not allow others to buy your brand name in Google – period. Anyone who tells you otherwise is ‘black hat’.

      Reply to this comment

  • Geoff 4th September 2012

    Thanks Tara, been a while since this has been an issue for clients which brought me to this page. I especially like the way you phrase it:

    “I would steer clear of this tactic if you are more focused on getting a direct response such as sales or sign-ups”

    I totally agree that, with the exception of FMCGs, the quality of traffic must be very poor and I would advise totally avoiding this tactic for the following reasons:

    1. You’ll never be the market leader in your niche (and will reinforce your position as playing catch up in the mind of the consumer – to get the poach you will need to provide offers).

    2. At the core of my being I think it is disgusting Google takes money for these searches for both up and coming, and established brands particularly in the service industry when the reseller caveat is “grey” or simply does not apply.

    3. It is particularly offensive when a brand is trying to send out “+brand +job” campaigns but several agencies have hijacked that term with feeds rather than quality content.

    Reply to this comment

  • Steve 30th October 2012

    Great article, it has really given me a good understanding of the policies

    Reply to this comment

  • Quentin 31st January 2013

    What if a competitor has a TV campaign and you want to capitalise on this when people search for the brand name? Is this allowed under google guidelines and is it ethical?
    This would be using keyword in search and display campaigns not using keyword in actual ad.

    Reply to this comment

  • Tara West

    Tara West 31st January 2013

    Hi Quinten,

    You can bid on a competitors brand name. If it is copyrighted then you may not be able to use it in your ad depending on the circumstances (eg if you are an authorised re-seller).

    Whether it is ethical is a whole separate argument and as mentioned in my post you will probably experience a low CTR.

    Reply to this comment

  • Alexis 7th April 2014

    Hello Tara.

    Great article, but i have a question… do you know if in Adwords you set an alarm so you can receive an Email if someone start bidding for your Brand? do you know any tool that does this?

    Regards from Spain

    Reply to this comment

  • craig 14th August 2014

    What if i own the company and brand that we manufacture and sell lets say ” dogbeds2u ” dogbeds2u.co.uk etc and the brand and website is dogbeds 2u. and dogbeds 2u LTD Registered company.
    If a competiton with a totally different web address, different products and is in no way associated with our brand or company has an add that reads
    Dogbeds2u “in bold” custom dog beds direct to you.
    Pretty much the same text as our adds and adding our Brand in bold at the beginning of the ad.
    Surely thats duping customers in thinking that as they dogbeds2u brand name is in bold that they are looking at dogbeds2u.co.uk but they will be taken to another companies website?
    Is this legal or can we stop this in some way, is this not brand hacking?
    Many thanks

    Reply to this comment

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