Suppose you went shopping for a designer bag on the High Street one day. You head towards the Louis Vuitton shop, but before you go in, you see another bag shop next door. Something catches your eye, and you go home not with the Vuitton bag you had planned to, but with a cheaper alternative.
There’s not much Louise Vuitton can complain about where – you would have exercised your consumer choice as you saw fit. This is the analogy I keep coming back to when I consider the current legal tussle between Louis Vuitton and Google.
Briefly put, Louis Vuitton wants Google to stop returning sponsored AdWords from other companies when users search for their brand name. We’ve all been there, if not when designer bag shopping, then in similar situations: you search for ‘Fox & Sons’, and a number of other estate agents’ ads appear. Search for ‘Interflora’ and the price-undercutting M&S flower service is offered (and that’s another case that has been taken to the courts, as well).
I try to look at every online situation from the user’s point of view, and here is where I think we see the kernel of the issue. If I am looking for, let’s say, Nike shoes, there is nothing more frustrating than clicking on a sponsored link that promises them at greatly reduced prices, only to find myself on a website with no Nike on offer.
For me, the real key is the wording. Offer the consumer some choice, sure – but make it clear exactly what is available, be it bags similar to Louis Vuitton’s ones, or shoes that are nothing like Nike’s, but which I might like anyway. If I click on a Google Adword and leave the site with no purchase, Google’s PPC model means that the site loses financially, and I lose my time. The only winner is Google.
That’s why, in my opinion, Google needs to refine its rules a little: not to crack down on bids for trademark keywords, but to insist on precise descriptions of what the user will find when they click through. Not easy in the small space available, but surely the way forward.