Can You Use Other Companies Brand Names In Your AdWords Advertising

legal view on brand names This article is contributed by Andrew Lolk.

Through my years working with AdWords, I’ve received quite a few requests from business owners wanting to advertise with competitor names on AdWords. My reaction to this has always been one of compliance. But I’ve only complied after carefully educating my Clients on the dangers of using a competitor’s brand (product or company name) in AdWords.

In this post, you will learn when it’s illegal to use them (it rarely is) and what I’ve been explaining to my Clients throughout the years.

It All Changed in 2009

Today, you’re allowed to use whatever keyword you want in AdWords without restrictions as long as they don’t go against the basic guidelines (drugs, paraphernalia, guns, etc.). But it hasn’t always been like this. Before the 2009 policy change, you couldn’t use keywords that contained trademarks that had been registered with Google. Famous brands like Nokia and Apple were notoriously hard to advertise for if you didn’t get specific permission (which can be really difficult to obtain).

Hard Times for iPhone and Nokia Repair Shops

cellphone repair shop There are a lot of reasonable arguments as to why you shouldn’t be allowed to advertise on trademarked terms in AdWords. If a less-than-reputable company is leeching off branded searches that the brand owner has worked hard to develop (and spent a lot of money to obtain), then it’s definitely unethical to use branded terms. But not being able to advertise with keywords like iPhone repair, iPhone screen replacement and iPhone battery change can be easily nerve-wrecking for a small iPhone repair shop.

Luis Vuitton vs. Google, Inc.

This was recognized in a case between Luis Vuitton and Google in France that was underlining whether or not an unauthorized advertiser could advertise on misspelled variants of the hard-to-spell brand name ‘Luis Vuitton’. Luis Vuitton famously lost to Google, and this opened up the flood gates to letting advertisers advertise on all brand-based keywords, even without authorization. Ever since this case, you’ve been allowed legally to bid on any search term that you’d like – even without authorization.

Keywords are Allowed, But You Need Authorization to Use Branded Terms in Ads

While it’s allowed and legal to use all the keywords you’d like, you still can’t use branded terms in your ads without special permission. This makes a lot of sense. My view on the branded keywords debate is that if someone is looking for Luis Vuitton handbags, they’re essentially searching for luxury handbags of different sorts. It makes sense to let other brands advertise when users have the intent to find luxury handbags.

Deceptive vs. Smart Advertising

Essentially, Google wants to ensure that their users find what they’re looking for. If someone has the intent of finding luxury handbags, then showing them various brands for luxury handbags makes solid sense. When it comes to ads, the tone gets a bit different. If a user is searching for Luis Vuitton handbags, then it’s not allowed for non-authorized advertisers to use the brand within their ads (this applies to any and all keywords). This is due to the fact that Google wants to make sure that what’s promised in the ads is also what is being delivered. If a counterfeit Luis Vuitton handbag dealer was allowed to write the following in their ads, it would obviously deceive the searcher:

Cheapest Luis Vuitton Bags You Won’t Find Them Cheaper. Quick Shipping at the Best Prices.

Clicking on the ad, they wouldn’t find real Luis Vuitton bags, but instead, cheap counterfeit versions.

My Advice to AdWords Advertisers

My advice has always been to be careful. Just because it’s allowed to advertise using your competitors’ names as keywords, doesn’t make it a good idea. Granted, I’ve seen amazing ROI on campaigns for competitors, but I usually advise against such use if you’re in a market where your competitors are petty and if the likelihood of a lawsuit is high.

One example is from the pearl and DIY jewelry industry in Scandinavia. I’ve had a couple of Clients in this industry and all of them advertised with competitor terms. It wasn’t unusual that the main websites in the industry had 5-6 advertisers present on them when prospects searched for their branded keywords. It was widely accepted as the cost of doing business and little effort was done to stop it.

Generic Company Names vs. Unique Company Names

generic or unique company name If you’re dead-set on using competitor names as keywords, then you need to follow one simple principal if you don’t want to get “caught”. Bid on competitor names that contain some sort of generic word in the name. If the situation arises and a competitor accuses you of bidding on their keyword, then just mention that you’re bidding on the generic word in broad match and searches for his competitor name is triggering your ads.

A good example of this is the name GuardianSoftware. They offer a software that monitors software. If you’re appearing with their company name (guardiansoftware), it can either be because of the keyword guardiansoftware or web monitoring software. This is the “magic” of broad match. You can trigger the most far-fetched, yet relevant searches this way. However, if your AdWords ads are appearing for a search for, then you will have a hard time explaining yourself out of it.

Disclaimer: The law varies from country to country. The law in your country might be different from the one applying in the EU where this post is based.

 Now It’s Your Turn

How do you feel about the usage of competitor names within AdWords campaigns? Is it a fair game? Or a strategy used by those who can’t play fair?

Author Bio: Andrew Lolk is the CMO at, an AdWords agency specialized in paid search management. Follow @whitesharkmedia for more insights to AdWords and Paid Search.

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4 thoughts on “Can You Use Other Companies Brand Names In Your AdWords Advertising”

  1. Barry, you write:
    While it’s allowed and legal to use all the keywords you’d like, you still can’t use branded terms in your ads without special permission.

    Permission from whom — Google, or the competitor whose name I want to put in the ad?


  2. Doug, this was a guest post by Andrew Lolk, however I’m happy to answer your question. I believe if you wish to use a trademarked name, you would have to get the trademark owner’s permission. I assume this would usually be difficult.

  3. I see — thanks. And I agree with your assessment, especially since we want our ad to read “So much better than “Brand X!”.

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