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Crude PPC Trademark Rules Screw Hotel Franchise Owners.

Best-WesternNews flash: How about if we begin an industry wide dialog regarding PPC trademark usage rules as concern big brand franchisees? The messed up paradigm is not really Google’s fault, though Google certainly lays down, and sucks up to big business without nary a protest regarding trademarks. We can’t blame Google-they’re just protecting themselves as is prudent.

Say you own lots of hotels, some of which are Best Western franchise products. Track this: you OWN these hotels, having paid millions of dollars for the privilege of flying franchise flags above the doors. Still, according to Google rules, you’re not allowed to use the keyword “Best Western” in PPC ads if Best Western so requests. You also can’t buy brand name keywords to trigger ads EVEN when Best Western chooses not to purchase PPC in the hotel’s local market-which often happens. How screwed up is that?

“Trademark in Ad Content: Due to trademark complaints, we [Google] do not allow advertisers to use certain trademarked terms or elements in their Google AdWords campaigns. You can learn more about Google’s trademark policy at http://www.google.com/tm_complaint.html.”

Big hotel chains like Best Western typically have multiple franchisees spread across several brands in lots of markets and they often don’t buy PPC for every franchise in every city. For instance today in Altus, Oklahoma Best Western is not spending a dime on Google, at least not in the geo-area I’m searching from. Funny thing is that we’re not allowed to promote our client’s Best Western property here EITHER-unless we don’t use the brand…arguably our most important promotional asset. We’ve pulled representative competitive intelligence for Best Western in a number of markets and believe me, like all hotel chains, they play favorites and don’t advertise everywhere.

The sad truth is that, despite the substantial marketing fees franchises pay to all corporate hotel parents, it’s quite common to find that a corporate hotel company parent abandons one or more of it’s franchisee-children in any given city. That’s cool…every company needs to meter out advertising dollars. However the franchisee should be able to purchase PPC which leverages the national brand if the parent corporation decides to withhold PPC in any given market.

Hotel Heartaches
There are other serious challenges for SEM firm when buying PPC for franchisees. First, hotel parent companies have restrictive rules for which URLs a franchisee can and cannot direct their Internet marketing traffic to. The most significant limitation is that usually each individual franchisee hotel may only route marketing traffic to the corporate landing page.

This is messy because, even if the franchisee tags up the PPC properly for analytics, conversion data is hard to come by from corporate or just plain unavailable. That’s ironic. Count on the fact that big hotel chains all run analytics packages like Omniture, ClickTracks, or WebTrends and could easily provide conversion reports if they decided to implement such a program.

Then there’s that shitty little trademark rule. If a trademarked company requests that Google restrict usage of a trademark then Google obliges. In most cases this is a very good thing which protects companies from predators. However when it comes to hotels, franchises, and other circumstances, it may not be fair.

Lose/Lose for Franchises
The bottom line is that if big brand “national” decides not to spend money on PPC for your franchised hotel and you’d like to buy PPC (which is an essential investment) you CAN’T say it’s a Best Western in the ad, you CAN’T purchase the keyword “Best Western”, and you CAN’T get analytics to track conversion for custom PPC URL tags.

Weak Technology, Weaker Protocol

Search engine methods to prevent any average Joe from purchasing protected trademarks are crude (“yes or no” with human intervention”) given the technology of the day. After Google rejects a hotel keyword as trademark related you’re just done… It would be easy enough for Google to keep track of whether or not the authorized national parent has ads running for a specific property. One idea would be to allow brand name franchises to run ads and trump them automatically if national places a buy for that property. Here’s the classic form letter from Google denying a trademark exception request from a franchise owner.

 

“After careful consideration, we [Google] are unable to grant the exception requests listed below. Your ad or keyword is no longer active. For your convenience, I’ve included your original message to us directly below each policy violation.
Term: Best Western Your explanation: We are the franchise owner of this property.
SUGGESTIONS:
-> Ad Content: Please remove the following trademark from your ad: Best Western.”

 

Grey Hat Solutions
There are grey hat solutions to this problem which allow less scrupulous advertisers to get around the trademark rules and place brand keywords in advertisements. I won’t reveal the methods here and voluntarily “out” loopholes in Google and Yahoo’s ad platform technologies. That would be evil. aimClear only practices white hat SEO tactics.

Our Humble Suggestions
1 Google and Yahoo need to allow individual hotel franchisees, who own national brand name properties fair and square, to buy brand keywords and use them in ads by requesting exemptions to the rules. The franchisee who owns a Best Western in Altus Oklahoma should be able to use the words “Best Western Altus” for PPC regardless of what Best Western Corporate says. Google should stop ceding this authority solely to trademark owners.

2 Hilton, Holiday Inn, Best Western, and other national hotel chains need to provide access to analytics conversion data provided that the franchisee tags PPC destination URLs properly. Hilton could offer a program to provide URL tagging syntax for PPC which meshes with their analytics package. We’d be happy to help them develop and pilot the program.

3 Major hotel chains need to provide transparent reports regarding which markets PPC is presently deployed in-or not-and when. Media buys like this are planned. After all we’re all friends right?

Look I know that in this case we’re dealing with an imperfect solution for an impossible problem. Let’s consider adding another layer of dialog after Google FLAT OUT rejects exception requests and begin an industry wide dialog regarding PPC trademark rules and franchises.

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12 Comments

  1. AnneS on October 24, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    Actually, I think I lay the blame on Google. For all franchises, we are allowed to use the brand name in advertising. It would be nice if Google stood up to them and reminded them of this fact. It is probably true across the board regardless of whether you are a hotel franchise, a fast food chain or department store. Buying into the franchise allows you to use the logo and the name, with the exclusion of url’s, which is stated in your agreements with the franchise. PPC is advertising, just as a newspaper or magazine ad. Google should allow franchises to use the name of their franchise. It is only adding to the pocket of the franchise company by doing so as it sells more rooms and therefore generates more revenue and fees. If a franchise company takes offense to it’s name being used in PPC then they should show proof to Google, and it’s franchisee, where in the franchise licence agreement it says that you can’t use it for PPC advertising.

  2. Marty Weintraub on October 24, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    Excellent perspective Anne. Thank you for sharing the insight.

  3. Mike Marshall on October 24, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    Yes, I am stunned that a Franchisee can’t use the Brand name in a PPC ad. That’s seems strangely counterproductive for the franchise.

  4. Marty Weintraub on October 24, 2007 at 9:30 pm

    Thanks Mike. I feel your pain.

  5. Marty Weintraub on October 26, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    Funny thing. Best Western is advertising the Altus property in Google Adwords today. Search for “Best Western Altus.” :)

  6. Carrie Hill on October 26, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    We have also run into issues w/ Best Western. Sometimes we can get Holiday Inn snuck into our ad text. The worst part is ad text from corporate PPC campaigns is poor because of the mass quantity and the impersonal ad copy. Letting the individual franchises run ads if they choose to would increase CTR and bookings in my opinion.

  7. Daphne Talbot on October 26, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    I’ve heard in a seminar but not had to go down this road that if the parent company provides a letter to Google allowing the marketing that you can then bid on the terms. It could be hear say but have you asked the parent company if they have had a dialog with Google about this? You’d think it would be in their best interests to do this.

    Just a thought.

  8. Marty Weintraub on October 26, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    I am hopeful that the representative Hotel Chain SEM firm(s) and in-house marketing staff join us in this dialog.

  9. Scott Clark on October 27, 2007 at 4:22 am

    As any of you who know me realize, I do a lot of franchise marketing. I have approached google at conferences as well as through my rep telling them we need, badly, an on-line method for granting adwords permissions “by ID” that works a bit like the multi-client interface. The last response (at SMX Advanced) was that Google had “something coming” for this. That’s all I heard.

    This is a major, and growing local search issue – soon to become a mobile search issue, too.

    For example… If you own a franchise leather repair center, but your franchise doesn’t provide any kind of comprehensive local marketing solution – you need to be able to sign up for Google Local and put your company on the map with PPC in a way that lets you utilize the brand boost that comes with a namebrand franchise purchase.

    As it stands, franchisors must use an arcane method of filing a form, etc, making it impractical for a 500 unit franchise! The corporate center (franchisor) needs a way to control permissions ON LINE, or frankly, they’re not going to do it.

    Bit since many franchises are in hyper-aggressive markets led by not so sophisticated marketers, you’ll find many trademark violations – so blocking blatant trademark violations (by competitors for example) is important.

    I know your greyhat methods, and often we must resort to them even when we don’t want to. But when a playing field isn’t level, you need to do some earthmoving from time to time.

  10. Marty Weintraub on October 28, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    Thanks for the excellent perspective Scott.

  11. Sam Freedom on November 6, 2007 at 9:00 am

    Frankly, I’m glad to hear this. I think it’s a GREAT idea. Why should Best Western not have the right to prevent unfair advantage between its franchisees? Doesn’t B.W. ultimately have the right to protect lesser franchisees from getting overshadowed by bigger franchisees?

    What if 1 franchisee owned 12 B.W.s across 2-3 states and another owned 3… guess who has the bigger advertising budget? Guess whos gonna feel screwed when he goes to use ppc and finds out that 3 franchises 4 times his size are competing with him… etc…

    The point is that it should ultimately be up to the parent company to deny useage of the brand name if it’s going to cause a rift in the ranks. At least BW could come up with some kind of a solution where all franchisees a share based on how many hotels they own and then BW runs the campaign while geodirecting traffic to specific places OR (more likely) having all traffic come to a main site to pick their location.

    The right to deny use or to find an equitable solution should always be the right of the franchisor…

    Sam

  12. Marty Weintraub on November 6, 2007 at 10:59 am

    Sam, track this: my client OWNS the Best Western Hotel and can’t call it a Best Western in the SERPS.

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