How to Bid on Trademarks in Google Ads

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As an advertiser, you’re facing new issues on a regular basis. And I like it! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t enjoy problems, I just like finding the solutions, as you can learn a lot from them.

One of such issues for me was bidding on trademarked terms (to be exact, bidding on the terms that unexpectedly became trademarks). I learned a lesson and I’m happy to share some important things with you. Stay with me if you want to get answers to the following questions:

What are Trademarked Terms

Trademarks are names of companies or their products that have been claimed by their owners on Google.

In other words, a name becomes a trademark only if its owner has provided sufficient proof of its ownership to Google. Moreover, trademarks are country- or region-based. Thus, ‘Google’ may be a trademark in the US but a plain word in Belarus (this is obviously not happing with ‘Google’ though, just an example).

Trademarked terms trigger an action from Google if they are found in:

  • Ad text
  • Ad extensions

But Google does not investigate any trademarked terms occurrences in:

  • Keywords
  • Display URLs

Note that in this article I will use the word ‘bid’ to refer to not only using trademarks as keywords but also to using them in ads copy.

Are You Allowed to Bid on Trademarks?

Yes and No.

Technically, you are allowed to bid on any trademarks you want, i.e. use them as keywords. So the answer is ‘Yes”.

But you will find hard times using these trademarks in your ads. So the answer is ‘No’.

This will happen even if the owner of the trademarked terms you’re bidding on is:

  • not your direct competitor
  • not your competitor at all
  • a company you have integration with (e.g. Salesforce connector)
  • your client’s name you want to highlight in your ad (as a social proof).

When Bidding on Trademarked Keywords is Allowed

There are instances when you will be allowed to use trademarked terms in the ads:

  • if you are a reseller (i.e. you’re selling products/services corresponding to the trademark)
  • if you are selling components (e.g. plugins for WordPress)
  • if you’re selling some integrations (e.g. SugarCRM to Magento)
  • if you have an informational website and write about the trademarked term.
There is also a special case: when you use a trademarked term not referring to a trademark but to a more general concept. This might happen if a trademark is not a unique name. For example, Mazda is a unique name and if you’re using it, you absolutely mean a car make. On the other side, there is ‘bounty’ which can either be used as a name of a very tasty bar with coconut or as a general word to refer to a gift, donation. In the second scenario, ‘bounty’ won’t be treated as a trademark.

In any case (except for the special one) the following important conditions should be met:

  • The landing page must contain the trademarked term you’re using in the ads.

For resellers and those who offer components, it is important to state a clear commercial intent, show the price and an option to buy the product.
The informational pages should be crafted for providing details about the trademarked term.

  • You should not be competing with the company owning the trademarks in question, you should provide additional value.

Both conditions apply to the following countries:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Ireland
  • New Zealand
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

So if you are targeting other locations, you will most likely see your ads disapproved because of the trademark in the ad copy. For example, that is what I see for my ads targeting the EU countries:

trademarks in ad copy adwords disapproved

Can You Use the Trademark if its Owner Doesn’t Flag Your Ads?

No, the process is automatic. Once a trademark has been claimed by a particular advertiser, no other unauthorized advertisers will be able to use this trademark in their AdWords ad copy without restrictions.

What is Approved (limited)

Even if you fall into one of the categories (either reseller or informational website) and target the listed regions, your ads will still have a status of Approved (limited).

According to Google:

“This status is given to ads that comply with our policies but are limited in where and when they can show.”

In the new AdWords interface this status looks like this:

approved limited trademarks-bidding google adwords

How to Completely Overcome Approved (limited)

Rewrite the Ad Copy

This is the easiest path to take. Remember you can still use any trademarked terms as the keywords in Google AdWords? Having them in the ad copy definitely increases your quality score but you also can go without them.

Change the Spelling of the Trademarked Terms

This is one of the tricks I used (more about that in the next section). But it’s not applicable for everyone. Before going for it, make sure that you’re allowed to do that (e.g. by your legal department) and that your changed spelling doesn’t look spammy.

Note also that Google treats some of the trademarked terms variations as trademarks too: say, Sugar-CRM, Sugar.CRM will still cause your ads to be disapproved or approved (limited).

Get an Authorization from the Trademark Owner

This is an ideal scenario but very challenging at the same time. You should connect with the real trademark owner who would usually be a high-level employee or CEO or the company founder.

The trademark owner should confirm with Google that they authorize you to use the trademark in question with no restrictions.

Note that this authorization is based on your AdWords account ID. So if you decide to set up a new account for some reason, this authorization won’t be automatically transferred to your new AdWords ID.

A Real-Life Example

Once I was in charge of an AdWords account for a company which sold extensions for Magento. The account performed very well, nothing to worry about. But one day I saw that all the ads statuses shifted from Approved to Approved (limited), and it happened overnight! It seemed like Magento got tired of its competitors bidding on every Magento-related term so it claimed its trademark and we were caught in the crossfire.

As you can imagine, if you are targeting Magento-related keywords, all your ads contain ‘Magento’! So it was pretty tough. My plan was:

  1. Panic
  2. Take a deep breath
  3.  Figure out what to do next.

I ended up changing the spelling of Magento. By that time, this CMS already had 2 major versions: Magento 1 and Magento 2. So my idea was to use:

  • Magento2, Magento1
  • Magento-2, Magento-1
  • M2, M1

I was sure that the target audience will understand what those variations meant. Additionally, they didn’t look spammy. So I replaced almost all the instances of “Magento” by one of those variations.

Just to clarify: this was a quick fix that helped to maintain a search impression share on a high level and not to lose too many impressions, clicks and conversions.

Why is this not an ideal long-term plan? Because the QS is still affected by not having the exact keyword (Magento in this case) in your ad copy.

The story has a happy ending: the company I worked for was a Magento partner, so the Magento company authorized our AdWords account and after that, we could use the trademark with no restrictions.

Your Turn

Have you ever had any issues with bidding on trademarked terms? Or funny stories when a simple word like ‘image’ is highlighted as a trademark by Google (yes, this happened to me). Share your thoughts and questions in the comments!