Google announced yesterday that it is going to open up restrictions on
trademarked terms in its advertising. Now brands can mention
trademarked names in their advertising — both positively and
negatively.

Google has been slowly easing standards on its advertising for months,
as companies have been bidding less on keyword search terms and the
economy has forced margins ever slimmer. Google’s decision on trademarks will increase its earnings potential on key words, and is already upsetting companies who fear for their trademarks.

Previously, Google had forbidden companies from placing trademarked terms in their ad copy unless they owned the trademark or had explicit permission to use it. But starting next month they are loosening their rules to be more in line with the industry standard.

In a blog post on Thursday, Google explained:

“Imagine opening your Sunday paper and seeing ads from a large
supermarket chain that didn’t list actual products for sale; instead,
they simply listed the categories of products available – offers like
“Buy discount cola” and “Snacks on sale.” The ads wouldn’t be useful
since you wouldn’t know what products are actually being offered. For
many categories of advertisers, this is the problem they have faced on
Google for some time.”

The new stipulation will allow companies to directly mention the brands they sell, but also, they can refer to their competitors, and bid on key words so that their ads show up first on searches for their competiton’s products.

While this is available in other online ad markets, the change is likely to spark more lawsuits against Google. Just this week, the company FirePond filed a class-action suit against Google for infringing its trademark and allowing competitors to place ads on searches for the key word “FirePond.”

While the rulings on trademark lawsuits can’t be predicted — the FirePond lawsuit against Google is the first of its kind — this shift away from trademark protection for the search giant is just a small step away from proprietary ownership of brands online.

The fact that Google is going to profit from this switch is going to irk many companies that already feel like they pay the search giant too much money, but increasingly, companies are learning that they are not in complete control of their brand message online.

Social media is forcing companies to cede control of their image and learn how to maneuver their brands in a space where there is a lot of feedback and it’s not necessarily going to be positive.

Brands can spend a lot of time in court protecting their image, or they can start to learn the lesson that will come with time — brands that can handle negative feedback, learn from it and improve their products are the ones that will succeed online in the long run. Dealing with competing brands online is just another step in this process.