After more than 12 months in business, I’ve finally published a page of reference clients and some descriptions of the type of work with which Explore Communications has been engaged (see ‘Our Work‘).
It’s a little bit like the old saying that a “cobbler’s children don’t have shoes” or any number of similar expressions that I discovered when I was doing some research into the origin of the expression – including my favourite: “the minister’s children have no morals”.
Generally speaking, the phenomenon is called “vocational irony” – and in my case it comes down to being too busy to do Explore Communications’ own marketing!
So, what sort of work has Explore been doing over the past year?
It’s been really varied, ranging from tradition agency-style PR and case study development through to complete marketing strategy and program management. Clients have been predominantly in the IT space, but have branched into other fields too, including insurance, sport and retail. Explore has also been engaged in ‘pro bono’ work for start-ups, often based on a quid pro quo arrangement (the most recent trade was free yoga classes)!
The projects to date has been rewarding, often challenging and always educational. I’m really looking forward to the year ahead, and the opportunities that 2013 and beyond will bring.
(Pictured above: “Cobbler’s Shop, Holmfirth”, Copyright michael ely and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) licence.
It’s probably not such a surprising outcome – Google has just won an appeal in Australia’s highest court overturning a Federal Court decision that it had engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct in relation to its AdWords product (see a PDF of the High Court’s press release). The original action had been brought by the Federal Government’s Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on behalf of companies using competitor’s trademarks and brand names in Google AdWords so that their pages appeared in the ‘Sponsored Links’ section at the top of Google’s search results.
While the individual action of companies to use their competitors’ registered trademarks in such a way is clearly a breach of the trademark holder’s intellectual property rights, the High Court found – unanimously – that Google itself was not in breach.
As someone on the receiving end of trademark breaches like this – when I was part of an in-house marketing team, every other week we were firing off legal letters and emails to both Google and the company misusing our trademark – it was incredibly frustrating to be bringing up the same complaint with Google asking them to remove the offending AdWord, knowing that Google was pocketing revenue every time that trademark was appearing in searches.
Now, with this result, there is even less of a reason for Google to act promptly when it receives a complaint about AdWords from the legitimate trademark holder. Of course, trademark holders still have recourse to contact the offending advertiser directly, or to take legal action against them, but it’s potentially a very time-consuming and laborious process.
In the short-term, the best advice is vigilance. You should be checking your trademarks weekly in Google searches, and firing off emails and legal letters when you see it in use by one of your competitors. To make things easier, ask your legal team or your legal adviser to draft up a template for you – that way you can just drop in the new company name and contact details each time you need to send.
In the long-term (and I’ve thought about this a lot in the past) how do we get better protection for our brands and trademarks online? Companies like Google have no incentive to act. The more people using AdWords or other similar products, the more money they make. The only way we can make it work is to use technology smartly. It should be possible to integrate the databases of government intellectual property agencies around the world with the main search engine providers, and develop a program that checks submitted words and phrases used by advertisers against the database. If the trademark holder’s details in the specific country or countries don’t match with the advertiser’s details, put the onus on the advertiser to prove otherwise.
Chance of that happening in real-life? Doubtful.
For more news and analysis on the decision, see:
- Australian Financial Review – http://afr.com/p/technology/google_triumphant_in_high_court_poOxaajC2unjFcCnr7WV8M
- Business Spectator - http://www.businessspectator.com.au/bs.nsf/Article/High-Court-to-rule-in-longstanding-Google-ACCC-cas-pd20130205-4MHQ6?OpenDocument&src=hp12
- Computerworld – http://www.computerworld.com.au/article/452911/google_cleared_by_high_court_deceptive_adwords_case_/
Late last year, I received an email from a company wanting to “host an advertisement” on my site. I thought it was spam, so I deleted it. However, a couple of weeks later, the same person sent me a follow up email, including this offer:
“I believe we offer a very attractive system of advertising. You would be paid a yearly-renewable fee for placing a text-based advertisement that is appropriate to the topic of your site.”
Given the context and prior correspondence, this offer appeared to be genuine – so I looked into the media planning and online branding company behind the email. According to its website, the company uses “the latest technology and greatest minds in the industry, to meticulously source, plan and execute a cross-platform holistic campaign.” The company “forms partnerships with smaller niche sites.”
I was curious to find out more, so I replied. Here’s the offer the company made:
“After reviewing your website, we think that a new blog post would be the best and least intrusive option for you. We have two ways of doing this:
A) You are free to come up with the content of the article or blog post, but we do ask that it is in some way relevant to our client and is composed of roughly 300 words.
B) I can ask our copywriters to craft an article to fit your site.”
I was also given an example of how it works – a Citroën C4 review on http://www.mycarreviews.co.uk :
“The advert can be found within the third paragraph – ‘J.D. Power’.”
For my part in the scheme, working with a telecommunications, beauty, health, tourism or finance client would ensure me US$140USD per year, while working with an online gaming client (poker, casino, bingo, etc.) would get me US$150USD per year.
Looking at the UK-based My Car Reviews site, there is no form of disclosure I can see with regards to commercial interests or agreements.
The insidious nature of this form of advertising and branding completely undermines the whole concept of blogging and independent content and opinion.
Australian Government broadcaster ABC’s Media Watch program covered the issue of disclosure in blogs in October 2012:
“The fact is, whether Australian bloggers disclose their commercial agreements to their readers is entirely a matter for them. In the United States, it’s the business of the Federal Trade Commission which states firmly that :
…bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.
— Federal Trade Commission, Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, 2009”
Similarly, in the UK, the Office of Fair Trading has taken action against inadequate disclosure for example, with Handpicked Media, an operator of a commercial blogging network (OFT secures promotional blogging disclosures).
However, with the sheer number of blogs and the unregulated nature of the medium, how can any regulatory authority successfully enforce guidelines or legislation in this area?
For any readers of my site, please note that I will not be publishing any paid content or promoting companies or brands for money, and where any content relates to Explore Communications’ commercial interests or clients, I will disclose the relationship!