Interflora vs Mark & Spencer. It’s a court case that probably passed you by, unless you are either a PPC geek or a Google AdWords aficionado, but today’s ruling could have an impact on every AdWords user in the EU.

Interflora and M & S: The Facts

Marks and Spencer were bidding on the brand name “Interflora” in their Google AdWords campaign.

Interflora objected to the use of their trademark as a keyword and so they decided to sue M & S, as reported by the BBC in October 2010. Today, 22 September 2011, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in favour of Interflora, as the delighted flower retailer announced on their website.

What did Marks & Spencer do wrong?

Nothing according to the Google AdWords guidelines:

In EU and EFTA regions, we do not prevent the selection of trademarks as keywords. However, in response to a complaint, we will do a limited investigation as to whether a keyword (in combination with particular ad text) is confusing as to the origin of the advertised goods and services. An example could be an ad that falsely implies affiliation with the trademark owner. If we find that it is confusing, we will remove the specific ad that is the subject of the complaint.

Marks and Spencer have not done anything to imply that they are in fact Interflora, as you can see from this screen grab of the search results from today:

Marks and Spencers adverts do not refer in any way to Interflora.

Marks and Spencer is very careful not to infer that they are in fact Interflora, nor do they make any derogatory remarks, false claims or in any way tarnish Interflora’s good name.

So why did Interflora take action against M & S?

Interflora argues that the very act of bidding on a competitor’s brand is an attack on the company in question. They describe this ppc technique as “free-riding”, as it is, in their eyes, a way to use a competitor’s good name to bolster your own reputation. And the flip side of that, is the implication that in building your reputation, you are damaging your competitor’s reputation.

Michael Barringer, Interflora’s marketing director, puts it quite simply when he says:

We are very proud of the Interflora brand and want to protect it for our customers, florists and the future.

Future of Trademark Bidding on AdWords

This raises interesting questions for all European AdWords advertisers. The European Court of Justice has sent out a clear signal that trademark bidding is a big no-no.

At the present, there has been no word from Google on whether a policy change will follow, but it seems likely. If you have been bidding on your competitors’ trademarks, you may need to review your advertising techniques now, before AdWords forces you to.