Google feeling the agency wrath once again

These days Google can’t step out of the front door without upsetting someone and it’s become somewhat de rigueur for agencies to slag them off left, right and centre despite the fact that a lot of us, myself included, generate some profit from the existence of their services.

As such when the news broke last week that Google are further relaxing their trademark policy in the US you could already here agencies across the land downing spreadsheets and sharpening pitchforks in protest.  In case you missed the screams of anguish the first time around (last year in the UK following a ‘test’ in the US), the first stage of Google’s evil plan was to allow advertisers to appear against users’ searches for trademarked terms they don’t own, although the advertising copy itself could only refer to the brand if it was run by the trademark owner or an authorised party.

The result of such a change is that competitors could suddenly appear against each other’s results, reducing the cheap brand traffic that paid search advertisers love so whilst competition also forced up the cost of buying clicks due to the auction model Google uses.  Whilst there was an impact the reality is simply that Google’s algorithm for paid search, whilst dictates which position advertisers appear in and how much they pay, meant that legitimate advertisers almost always still get to the top spot for a fraction of the cost of a competitor due to increased ‘relevance’ – itself a function of copy and proportion of users that click.

The next step in Google’s master plan?  To allow advertisers to use whatever trademarks they like in an ad.  Advertiser frustration may seem understandable – advertisers using your trademark now appear more relevant to both Google and the consumer and therefore you end up getting less clicks for more money.  Yet before you go and start collecting rocks to throw at our little search friend it’s worth considering a couple of points.

Firstly you can only include a trademark if you have a legitimate justifiable reason, e.g. you offer information on or sell the trademarked product.  Which, it’s worth pointing out, pretty much puts Google where Yahoo! have been for years (so they DID get something right obviously, huh?!) and also… Kind of makes sense.  Especially when supplier and affiliate terms will enable brands to police this space themselves anyway.

The second thing to consider is Google’s justification.  I’m paraphrasing (see their reasoning in full here), but ultimately their rationale is that you’ve been able to do it through other media for years.  You run Joe Blogg’s car showroom and want to run a press ad telling the world you are now giving away an iPod to your one billionth customer?  Not a problem… Yet on search?  Not on your nelly.  Until now (in the US at least… the UK soon no doubt).

And this is what the complainants overlook – paid search is probably the only form of advertising where the media owner tries to police the advertisements.  If you run an advert that breaks the law on TV then it is your responsibility and sure, if you passed yourself off as another brand you can bet your bottom dollar someone’s going to get sued, but it won’t be the TV channel.  Google’s latest change merely shows the medium is growing up.