Until recently, I had never really thought about the importance of trademarks in digital marketing. That changed a few months ago when my team found that a competitor was infringing our client’s trademark in their adverts. I won’t name any names, but here are a few things that I learned from responding to this infringement on the agency side.

Before I start this list, it might be worth starting off by defining what a trademark is. A trademark is something, whether it is a symbol, word or words, that is legally registered as representing a company, product, or organization. This means that other organizations cannot use that something unless under certain circumstances or if you give permission to that organization.

It should then be pretty simple for the global giants whose media we buy for our clients to stop this from happening in their placements.So here’s what I learned when trying to negotiate the world of trademarks and online media providers.

1. There are services that can automatically detect trademark infringements by third parties

We were originally notified via email by this type of service provider that a competitor was infringing our client’s trademark in their ads.

Such brand protection software providers save you from having to awkwardly search for your client’s keywords for what seems like an eternity, hoping for a competitor ad to pop up. They can also provide you with the solid evidence of the infringement by a competitor, which you can then submit to the media provider in order to try and get the culprits taken down.

2. It isn’t necessarily in media providers’ interests to take down ads that infringe trademarks

We found that the media provider whose placements the trademark-infringing ads appeared on was not very helpful in trying to get them taken down. Originally we were told that, despite our client having their trademark registered with the correct government body, they had to register the trademark with the media company’s trademark team in order for a complaint to be filed and upheld. It took a few weeks to get the trademark registered and this could only be done through an online form.

Once this was done, we were then told that the ads would not be taken down because the trademark our client registered was only one out of the two words the competitor was using and they weren’t using a space between the two. 

So say for example, my company selling frog food had a registered trademark called “FrogNog”.  If the competitor used the term “FrogNogFrogFood” in their ad, because of the second part they stuck on to my trademark the media company would be unwilling to take the ads down because I don’t have a trademark for that full phrase. 

We couldn’t even get any contact details from the media provider’s trademark team to help get this infringement sorted. 

After going through this, it became clear that some media companies will do very little to take down trademark-infringing ads because it is not in their interest or because they do not have the internal capability to deal with these situations.. 

3. Make sure that your trademarks are as watertight as possible

In order to make sure media companies respond to trademark infringement complaints with decisive action, advertisers should make their trademarks as watertight and unambiguous as possible.

So for a start, advertisers should make sure all possible brand permutations that they want to protect are registered with the relevant government bodies. Don’t just trademark “FrogNog” – also trademark “FrogNog Frog Food” to ensure that sneaky competitors can’t get around the rules.

Secondly, make sure that your trademarks are also registered with the media providers before you see an infringement rather than after. For us, this process took a few weeks and slowed us down in trying to get the culprits taken down.

Although I understand that the world of trademarks is difficult to navigate, I hope media suppliers start making it easier for advertisers to take ads infringing trademarks down. In the meantime, be prepared and exercise caution!