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If you are familiar with search engine marketing (SEM) you know it is the process of buying keywords and having your ad pop up when people search those words. This is also called pay-per-click advertising. What you may not know is that dealers across the country are buying their competitor's names so that their ad will come up if a consumer searches for the competitor's name. For example if you are ABC Chevy, and you buy your competitor, Main Chevy's name, if a car shopper types in "Main Chevy" into Google, your ad will come up. Pretty nasty huh? I suggest you type in your own dealership name right now and see if another dealer's name comes up in the paid section of the search results. (Paid section is on the top or right hand side of the page.)
If another dealer's name comes up in the paid section, they are buying your name in an attempt to steal customers that are looking for you. Ouch. So what do you do about this? Turns out that issue is in the courts right now. In a recent court ruling, Geico lost a lawsuit when the court ruled that the paid ad does not necessarily cause consumer confusion. However, there is another court case pending where a business was buying a competitor's name and the injured party sued Google. Google won the first round, but in appeal the Judge disagreed and sent the matter back to court. So, it is up in the air at the moment. The issue here is whether buying someone's trademarked name in pay-per-click (SEM) marketing is trademark infringement.
This subject is causing lots of turmoil among all kinds of businesses who don't think another business should be able to buy their trademarked name. Whether you agree or not, you need to be aware if you are losing customers this way. If you are doing Google Adwords, you will also have to decide if you want to use this tactic yourself - at least while it is legal.
It would be interesting to hear from DrivingSales members about how they feel on the subject. Should a competitor be able to buy your trademarked name on Google? Do you currently use this tactic yourself? For that matter, have you trademarked your own business name yet? Tell us what you think.
Brett Stevenson is Publisher of Dealer Marketing Magazine, a trade magazine for auto dealers at www.DealerMarketing.com.