Ethics & Competitive Keyword Advertising

It sounds unethical:

  1. “Buy” the name of your competitor from Google.
  2. When potential clients search Google for that competitor, your ad appears.
  3. Profit!!

Lawyers seem to think so, too.  There was the Milwaukee PI firm of Habush Habush & Rottier, which sued a competitor for doing this. The North Carolina State Bar issued an ethics opinion putting a kibosh on the practice. And now “The Hammer” – the Texas Firm of Jim Adler & Associates – has weighed in, asking that Texas also find competitive keyword advertising unethical.

Of course, they’re all wrong.

Habush found this out, after spending several hundred thousand dollars losing their lawsuit.

North Carolina should have found out, after watching even ad-restrictive Florida reverse course and withdraw a proposed opinion barring the practice.

And Adler et al will find out as well, as I expect the Texas Bar will leave them hanging.

Habush competitive keyword ad 2

Here’s why: look at this competitive ad for the search term “Habush.” There’s absolutely nothing deceptive or misleading about the ad. There’s no “likelihood of confusion” and no trademark infringement. In fact, the search engines have ad rules that affirmatively prevent advertisers from using the competitor’s name in the ad. So all that happens is that a consumer searching for a firm by name also sees an ad for a competitor. Fundamentally, that’s no different than traditional “proximity advertising” – buying a billboard across the street from your competitor, or a yellow pages ad on the opposite page.

And that’s a GOOD THING – because we should favor giving consumers more information when choosing a lawyer, rather than giving lawyers a competition-free channel for online name searches.

2 thoughts on “Ethics & Competitive Keyword Advertising”

  1. This similarity to ‘proximity advertising’ and the inability of the firm to control it’s advertising message is another reason to avoid enriching the search engines even more. Possible Solution: Work on boosting organic results exclusively. What do you think?

    1. It’s always a good idea to work on boosting organic search results, but the efficacy (and cost) of trying to do that varies widely among geographies and practice areas.

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