With only a few months until the Iowa Caucus, the annual marathon of political ads is almost upon us. This year, more than ever before, the air war is coming online as both sides trade web versions of TV ads, and some ads will inevitably pick up enough earned media buzz to reach more people than they would have in a paid context.
While this is not new (look back at President Johnson’s "Daisy" ad for ancient viral video), this may be the first cycle that a search engine ad created a furor.
Google recently created a stir when they rejected ads by Sen. Collins’s campaign that slammed MoveOn. Google rejected the ads, according to Policy Council Pablo Chavez, not because of their political content, but because of a trademark violation:
Under our trademark policy, a registered trademark owner may request that its mark not be used in the text of other parties’ ads. Some time ago, MoveOn.org submitted a request to Google that its trademark not be used in any ads…
This all seems perfectly reasonable, but what does it mean for your ads? Follow me below the fold for thoughts on what you can do to make sure your ad gets through…
First of all, let’s be clear – MoveOn is more web-savvy than many other advocacy targets. They probably put in the request to Google long ago to have ads with their name rejected, and you won’t know if your ad will make it through until you try.
That said, if your ad does get rejected, consider other ways to send the same message. Organizations’ names might be trademarked, but what about the people? As public figures, elected officials are generally considered fair game for AdWords.
Similarly, you can consider changing the context of your ad to make it a question, with the trademark as the answer – "Which liberal group is attacking Susan Collins?" Obviously, it’s not going to be as effective, but it’s an option if your target is famous (or infamous) enough. As a bonus, Alex Trebek is more likely to click through.
Alternately, you can consider a derivative from the name of your opponent – "Tell liberal groups to Move On from attacking Susan Collins." This should get you around content filters and trademark law, while still keeping your message intact.
In a TiVo nation with AdBlocks on every browser, contextual search ads are only going to be growing in future election cycles. At the same time, campaigns are still spending a pittance on online ads, while reserving massive war chests for network TV. Will this be the year we see that change?
Beaconfire, along with our partners, does search engine marketing for a number of our clients, and we’re seeing more and more non-profits getting into AdWords every day, in part because of the expansion of the Google Grants program. More conflicts like this in the future are inevitable, particularly with more confrontational groups, and it will be interesting to see how Google is able to navigate the fine line between political censorship and trademark protection.
Has your non-profit ever had an ad rejected for trademark reasons? Have you notified Google that you’d prefer it not be used without permission? Share your thoughts in the comments.
UPDATE: I received an email from Robert Cox of the media bloggers association. He said,
Google and MoveOn were "less than forthcoming" – and the "standing request" was not put in "long ago". You, along with others, may have been duped by the mis-leading statements by Google and MoveOn that they put in the request "some time ago". In fact, the request was put in on 9/19 and was part of a broader effort by MoveOn to silence critics of its "General Betray Us" ad.
New questions raised on Google, MoveOn.org relationship
I see your worked for Sen. Feingold so I do not expect you to be sympathetic to an account that portrays MoveOn in a less-than-flattering light but the facts have begun to come to light and the assumption in your piece is dead wrong.
In fact, my post was inspired by the post from Google’s Policy Blog and the original examiner article linked – I was not aware of any other posts on the topic. So feel free to draw your own conclusions on Google’s trademark policy. And in the interest of disclosure, yes, I did work for Senator Feingold, as it notes in my bio.