BrandVerity
 

We were recently featured in a piece on the CPC Strategy blog! The post focuses on the third-party trademark abuse that we find in paid search, explaining some of the negative impacts this has on retail brands (and others).

You can see the full post here. We recommend checking it out!

We’re very excited to add Product Listing Ad monitoring as a complimentary new tool for our clients! All of our paid search monitoring clients now have access to this new set of reports that we’ve developed specifically for monitoring Product Listing Ads (PLAs). We hope that this tool will provide you with much-needed visibility into PLAs, helping you make more informed decisions about your campaigns.

What Does the PLA Monitoring Tool Include?

We’ve already built out plenty of reports that are ready for you to use. For example, you can track which sellers appear the most frequently on a set of keywords, evaluate competition for specific products, see what keywords return PLAs the most often, and much more! Here are just a few examples of the information at your disposal:

  • PLA Frequency – the percentage of SERPs that include PLAs (for a specific keyword or set of keywords)
  • PLA Share – your own, or of other specific sellers
  • Price Ranking – how frequently a given seller has the lowest price
  • Average Price – for a particular product or from a particular seller
  • Top PLA Keywords – which keywords triggered the most PLAs from a given seller

Of course, these are just some of the ways to start examining your PLA data. As we mentioned above, there are many other reports you can use. We hope you’ll start taking advantage of them soon!

Questions? Comments? Requests? Let Us Know

If you’re already a BrandVerity client, we welcome you to explore the Product Listing Ads tool and let us know what you think. Your PLA data is available now! You can find it by navigating to the “Product Listing Ads” subtab under Paid Search, or by heading directly to this page. We’d love to know how we can refine the tool to meet your needs, so we strongly encourage you to send us your feedback. If you’d like to make some suggestions to our team or are simply curious about the metrics included in the PLA section, we’d be happy to chat. Feel free to reach out to your Account Manager or leave us a note here.

Even if you aren’t a BrandVerity user yet, we’d still be happy to walk you through the tool and hear your thoughts. We strongly believe that more comprehensive feedback leads to a better product! We welcome you to reach out by leaving us a brief message here.

AM-Days-Logo

I recently had the misfortune of missing out on AM Days London. I was originally preparing to speak on a panel entitled “Crossing the Pond: Growing Affiliate Programs in Europe vs. U.S.”, but ran into a comedy of errors at the airport (weather, mechanical issues, customer service breakdowns) that ultimately prevented me from going.

It was very disappointing that I couldn’t attend. I had been looking forward to interacting with fellow panelists Oliver Deighton from VigLink, Gavin Male from R.O.EYE, and Oliver Jones from Yieldify—as well as moderator Robert Glazer from Acceleration Partners. I was also pretty excited to add more of a compliance-oriented perspective to the discussion.

I’m sure the panel did a fantastic job—I’ve heard positive responses and noticed some good feedback on Twitter as well. Nonetheless, I thought it might be helpful to discuss a few of the talking points that I had outlined. Compliance actually informs quite a few of the differences between the U.S. and U.K. markets, so I think it ties into the overall topic in some interesting ways. Without further ado, here are some of the points I wanted to cover:


Industry Reputation

One of the more stark differences between the US and UK markets is the public attitude towards affiliate marketing. In the US, the industry is often met with misunderstanding or criticism. On the more scathing end, you’ll find articles like this one on VentureBeat. Other pieces like this one from the New York Times aren’t particularly critical, but seem symptomatic of the skepticism about the industry. You could almost say that a new genre of muckraking has been developed specifically for the US affiliate marketing industry. I may be regionally biased here based on my geography, but I believe that the UK is different. Sure, there may be the occasional piece that questions some aspects of affiliate marketing—but I don’t expect that these pieces are as frequent or as extreme overall.

Interestingly, these differing attitudes are reflected in the adoption of affiliate marketing in each country. Of the top 100 online retailers in US, a good percentage don’t actually have affiliate programs. By comparison, I believe that the vast majority of the UK’s top online retailers work with affiliates. Furthermore, US-based advertisers are sometimes hesitant to shift budget over to the affiliate channel. But if you think about it, the affiliate channel shouldn’t really be something you have to “budget” for—it should continually pay for itself. The skepticism even extends to the publisher side, where affiliates sometimes question whether their commissions are being poached away by bad-actors.

What accounts for all this? I’m not sure if it’s simply the difference in industry reputation between the two countries, specific regional differences that have caused those reputations to diverge, or some combination thereof. As usual with these types of questions, I suspect that the answer includes both.

The Role of the Network

Another key distinction between affiliate marketing in the US vs. the UK is the network-advertiser relationship. In the US, the networks tend to take a more technology-centric view. Their role is to provide the tools and services that help advertisers connect with publishers. The result is an emphasis on advanced tracking and recruitment tools. However, compliance is generally left up to the individual advertisers (with some exceptions, of course). By comparison, in the UK the networks tend to take a more brand-centric approach and include compliance with their core product.

This may be related to another difference between the two markets: the number of networks that the average advertiser works with in each country. US advertisers (particularly smaller ones) tend to work with multiple affiliate networks. This seems to be less common in the UK, and could be explained by the different approaches taken by the networks in each country. If you’re selecting your network(s) based on technology and maximizing your opportunities, it probably seems smart to sign up with several networks. Why not? More affiliates, more potential sales. But if you’re selecting your network(s) from a compliance perspective, you may want to stick with one trusted partner who can provide highly vetted affiliates. More networks could mean more opportunities for non-compliance, attribution issues, and other challenges.

Industry Standards

The standards in each country follow a similar pattern. Just as the networks emphasize compliance in the UK, they are also the driving force behind the IAB’s Affiliate Marketing Council—the body that guides the industry within the UK. The standards that it produces, such as the Voucher Code of Conduct and Software Application Code of Conduct, are specifically written to outline affiliate behavior. Backed by the authority of the networks who make up the Affiliate Marketing Council, the standards help to hold publishers and networks accountable.

But in the US, the standards aren’t written for the same audience. It simply wouldn’t make sense to address publishers or networks in a document like this. Since the networks serve less of a compliance-oriented role, it’s up to advertisers to stay up on standards and best practices. It’s easy to spot this difference by looking at one of the Performance Marketing Association’s publications. For example, if you check out their guide on Evaluating Network Compliance, you’ll immediately notice that it’s geared primarily towards advertisers. Other pieces generally either address or are sourced from advertisers, agencies or OPMs. This is a very different setup from what we see in the UK.

One of the other key differences here is enforcement. Because the IAB’s Affiliate Marketing Council is made up of networks, there is more opportunity to actively ensure compliance. The networks can directly remove non-compliant affiliates from their platforms. Furthermore, the networks are also expected to hold each other accountable for their affiliates’ behavior. If a violation is identified, there are certain protocols to follow. By comparison, there isn’t as clear of a pathway to enforcement in the US. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t happen, or that the networks are never involved. It’s just usually up to each individual advertiser to spot and take action on violations relevant to their own brand.

Other Comparisons

Of course, this post can’t exhaust all of the great discussion points that the panel would have inspired. I would have liked to discuss a bit more about the differences in regulations between the two markets. My assessment of the US market is that governmental regulations are scattered across different agencies and are often not very specific to the affiliate industry itself. My knowledge of UK regulations is unfortunately limited, so it would be interesting to hear how it compares.

There are certainly many other things to consider as well. So if there’s anything you’d like to add, expand upon, or mention, I’d love to hear about it. Once again, apologies to the rest of my panel for my inability to attend. Hopefully we can collaborate at a future show!

Earlier this week, Mozilla launched the latest version of Firefox. The news got plenty of people (including me) excited about the updated look, feel and features of version 29.

After noticing a few Tweets pop up and hearing some discussion from co-workers, I decided to check up on what all the commotion was about. I figured that a trusty Google search would do the trick, so I simply typed in “Firefox” in hopes of a quick answer. To my surprise, this is what I found:

Software-Bundler-Bidding-on-Firefox

Bizarre. The first results I saw, right at the top of the page, were ads placed by third-party download sites. Not just one, but a pair of ads promoting Firefox downloads at the top of Google’s results. The ads were also pretty bold in their approach. Between them, we see a number of interesting tactics:

  1. Using the registered trademark symbol (®) in ad copy
  2. Describing the promoted version as “Official” in ad copy
  3. Using pushy language that doesn’t seem consistent with the Mozilla brand

What Was Going on Here?

Why was this happening? Was this just a one-off incident that I happened to stumble across—or was it part of a bigger trend? Curious about these questions, I looked back to some monitoring that I had set up a while back. This particular set of monitoring covered a number of software brands, including Firefox. So, I started combing through the results. Here’s what else I started to find:

This Definitely Wasn’t an Isolated Incident

After looking back through some BrandVerity data from a test account that I set up a while back, I found numerous examples of both these advertisers placing ads on Google for Firefox-related keywords. The first advertiser, browser-download.com, has actually been showing ads since February 11th at the latest. The second advertiser, free-downloads.us.com, has been showing ads since April 13th at the latest. In fact, I had actually limited my monitoring to a narrow set of keywords. So it’s likely that both advertisers started placing similar ads even earlier.

Of course, it probably comes as no surprise that this wasn’t a random find. After all, one manual search on a popular branded keyword showed two prominent ads from software download sites. That’s not something we’re likely to come across by pure accident. Why would the advertiser spend time creating an ad that would only run once? They wouldn’t. It wouldn’t be worth the effort.

But Was This Intentional?

Alternatively, there’s the possibility that the advertisers didn’t intend to advertise on the keyword. Through some sort of targeting accident, they could appear sporadically. An accident like that would probably require a few things: low relevance, low quality score, and a campaign with some very broad matching. So, does that explain these ads? I looked at a couple more ads from the first advertiser to test.

Browser-Download-Ad-Copy

Here we have a couple variations of browser-download.com’s ad. Their campaign is rotating between these ads on Firefox’s branded keywords. That would seem to suggest that the site is specifically targeting Firefox. If you’re still skeptical, I suggest revisiting the original ad we found at the top of the post. That ad makes sure to include both the Firefox trademark and the registered trademark symbol—a difficult feat if you’re broad matching and using Dynamic Keyword Insertion. For even more confirmation, I also looked at the landing page associated with these ads. The landing page was very specific to Firefox. There were also no intermediary redirects or signs of the ValueTrack keyword parameter, meaning that the landing page was essentially hard-coded. browser-download.com must have specifically placed this Firefox-specific URL into AdWords.

Plenty More Advertisers Were Doing the Same Thing

So far, we’ve only talked about two advertisers in this post. But were they the only ones involved? I looked through more of the data to see what else was there. Pretty quickly, I found several more advertisers showing up in prominent positions. Here are three different software download sites that each appeared in the #1 position on Google in the past month:

More-Software-Bundlers-Advertising-Firefox

And that was just beginning. Even on the limited set of keywords I was monitoring for Firefox, I found nearly 20 advertisers offering similar downloads. Each of these sites seemed to follow a similar pattern.


What’s in It for These Download Sites?

Okay, so we know that advertisers are doing quite a bit of this. But why? What incentive do they have? I have plenty of appreciation for Firefox, as do many other people. But I doubt that these sites are promoting it simply for the good of the world.

To get a better understanding of what was going on, I decided to look into the landing pages on these sites. One of the more interesting ones came up in the free-downloads.us.com ad from our initial example:


Software-Bundler-Firefox-Landing-Page

Notice the language in the disclaimer at the bottom:

Free downloads via Download Manager. Additional commercial offers might be offered durring (sic) the download process. The product may be available for download for free from the manufacturer’s website.

This isn’t your standard Firefox download. It’s been bundled with some additional software—most likely some sort of toolbar. Potentially even adware or malware. This is a somewhat common monetization strategy for brand bidders, and something we’ve covered before with advertisers targeting Pinterest. The download site gets paid on a per-install basis for the additional software that it promotes through its install wizard.

Let’s quickly look at another example. Here’s a similar disclaimer from browser-download.com’s landing page (you can click the image for a full-size version):


Another-Software-Bundler-Disclaimer

This disclaimer uses slightly different wording. However, I suspect that “ad-supported software manager” means something very similar to the “additional commercial offers” we saw on free-downloads.us.com. Either way, the language in each of these disclaimers explains that there’s a clear financial relationship between the download sites and certain partners. They are ultimately getting paid by bundling Firefox’s software with other products.


Does Firefox Allow this?

So, at this point we know that A) download sites are using the Firefox trademark to promote Firefox downloads, and B) the download sites are bundling Firefox’s software with other products by using their own installers. Is this something that Firefox allows? Or is this a form of trademark abuse?

To answer those questions, I looked into Mozilla’s Desktop Distribution policy and its Trademark Policy. Fortunately, they both were relatively specific. Here’s the most relevant passage from the distribution policy. I’ve added some bold to a few sections so it’s a little easier to scan.

Distribution of unmodified copies of our product installers, disk images, and/or tarballs downloaded from mozilla.org is permitted under the terms of our distribution policy, and does not require an agreement.

The branded versions of Firefox and Thunderbird are governed by the Mozilla Foundation’s Trademark Policy. Our code is free, but our trademark rights are strictly enforced. While there is considerable freedom to redistribute and modify our software and source code that does not incorporate our branding, there are restrictions on your ability to use Mozilla’s trademarks and logos.

What this means is that distributing any modified versions of the branded software we release requires our permission and, in most cases, a distribution agreement between your organization and Mozilla. This policy applies to any component of the branded software, including – but not limited to – the installer file/disk image/tarball, the executable binaries, chrome files, preferences files, or any other file/component of a Mozilla-branded application. We do this to ensure our users have a great experience with any version of Firefox through a faster, safer and better browser.

Firefox’s distribution policy depends on whether their product has been modified. If you’re simply providing the standard installation, you’re allowed to distribute pretty freely. But if you’ve modified the product, you need their permission. That applies to various aspects of the product—including the installer.

So, these download sites need Firefox’s permission. They can’t distribute modified versions of Firefox without it. This permission is also related to the trademark policy. Here’s a brief passage from the trademark policy that expands on this permission (with my bolding added).

Again, any modification to the Mozilla product, including adding to, modifying in any way, or deleting content from the files included with an installer, file location changes, added code, modification of any source files including additions and deletions, etc., will require our permission if you want to use the Mozilla Marks. If you have any doubt, just ask us at trademarks@mozilla.com.

The download sites need Mozilla’s permission. They can’t use the Firefox trademark without it.


Branding Considerations

Alright, now we know that these download sites need permission from Mozilla to use the Firefox trademark. Do they actually have that permission? We can’t know for sure—but we can make some educated guesses.

In their trademark policy, Mozilla goes on to explain more of their rationale behind their requirements. I won’t go into these in detail, but the bottom line is that they want to ensure that the Firefox brand is associated with a compelling web experience. They mention that they want to avoid deception, confusion and anything that might harm the identity of Mozilla’s brands. They’re also specific that distributors should provide the most recent release of Firefox.

At this point, the question is: do these software bundlers meet that standard? Our examples so far would seem to suggest “No”, but let’s look just a little further.

Plagiarism of Firefox’s Content

Software-Bundler-Plagiarizes-Firefox-Content

If you scroll down the page on free-downloads.us.com, you’ll see this supporting copy. It has a tagline, subheads, and some well-written body text. Seems great, right? That’s because it’s entirely lifted from Mozilla’s own Firefox content. A Google search of one paragraph reveals that the text originally appeared on Firefox.com. What’s worse, it’s from an old indexing of the Firefox site. That content isn’t actually current!

Promoting Outdated Versions of Firefox

Software-Bundler-Old-Version-Firefox

This is probably worse than outdated content. Despite the fact that Mozilla just released version 29 of Firefox, this download site is promoting version 27. That’s two versions behind! This might have been understandable if it were only a single version behind, considering that Firefox just launched version 29. But to be this outdated and call is “New” doesn’t seem appropriate for the Firefox brand. Especially at the top of Google.


Further Questions

Of course, we’ve simply looked at a single brand and a limited set of examples here. There’s plenty more to this issue that we’d love to explore. Here are some initial questions that this brings up for me:

  • What software products are these download sites promoting with their installers?
  • Do their installers include any malware or adware?
  • Is there always a real Firefox binary included in the download?
  • What other brands are these download sites be targeting?

I’d also love to hear any feedback or questions from you. If you have any experience seeing this in the wild, don’t hesitate to comment or reach out to us!

You may have heard about the Heartbleed OpenSSL vulnerability in the news. This particular vulnerability affected (and may still affect) approximately 70% of the websites on the Internet, BrandVerity included.

While the vulnerability is serious, at no point did it expose any underlying BrandVerity servers or stored data – an attacker could have exposed ‘data in transit’ during the vulnerability window and most likely only if they had access to a segment of the network between your computer and BrandVerity (such as on an open wifi connection or its equivalent).

The vulnerability was resolved early Tuesday morning and we had issued new encryption certificates later in the afternoon. We believe the likelihood that you were at all impacted through BrandVerity is very, very low. However, we wanted to provide a complete background for those interested in understanding the impact of the vulnerability and how we have handled it. We hope this may help you handle other sites that could still be vulnerable.


Impact:

How did this impact my account at BrandVerity?

In all likelihood, this did not affect your account with BrandVerity at all. There’s a slim chance that an attacker could potentially have captured data that traveled to or from our server during a brief 10.5 hour window Monday night. The data that could have been captured is similar to what an attacker on a shared WIFI network could capture when you use a non-SSL site.

You’ll also need to login the next time you access BrandVerity. We recommend changing your BrandVerity password to protect against the unlikely event that it was compromised. We would also recommend doing this for all SSL sites you use, including banks, social networking sites and so on and we describe in more detail steps you should take below.

Are other sites vulnerable?

Yes. We did some light testing of popular websites in the affiliate space and found some to be safe and others to still be vulnerable. Other sites, including banks, Facebook, and many others had similar exposure to us. Some, like us, have fixed this, but others remain vulnerable. You can check whether a site is still vulnerable with this Heartbleed testing tool.

What should I do if a site I use is still vulnerable?

It would be wise to avoid using that site until the Heartbleed testing tool (linked above) no longer shows a vulnerability. After that, you should wait until the site has re-keyed their SSL certificate (which we have already done), then change your password. If the site is still using an older certificate whose private key was captured, your new password could be captured as well. We hope that other sites will also send out emails like this to notify their customers that they have resolved the issue and re-keyed their certificates.


Background and Details

What is the Heartbleed vulnerability?

A much more in depth discussion and Q&A can be found at heartbleed.com, but in brief, the vulnerability allows an attacker to retrieve 64Kb of memory from webservers that use OpenSSL. This memory might include, but is not limited to: usernames and passwords, session cookies, and certificate private keys. The memory dump an attacker can retrieve is a soup of data, which at 64Kb will not be all of the server memory. However, with enough effort and luck the aforementioned security elements could be extracted. As an example, security researchers have demonstrated retrieval of usernames and passwords from Yahoo Mail.

Timeline:

The Heartbleed vulnerability has existed in the wild for over 2 years, but had not been broadly discovered and disclosed until yesterday (17:30 UTC April 7th) in an OpenSSL vulnerability announcement. While it is possible that a very small and secretive group of attackers were exploiting the vulnerability before, we think this is unlikely and that for practical purposes the vulnerability began with this announcement.

We use an Amazon EC2 Elastic Load Balancer to provide our SSL encryption, and Amazon Web Services acted quickly to remove the vulnerability. When we tested at 04:00 UTC April 8th, we were no longer vulnerable. Thus, we expect that we were vulnerable for at most 10.5 hours after the vulnerability announcement. By 11:15 UTC April 8th, we had re-keyed our SSL certificate so that if our private key had been previously exposed, it could no longer be used to decrypt traffic.

Our Architecture:

We have chosen to use SSL for all communications, and it is worth noting that in many ways this vulnerability in an SSL server is very similar to simply using a non-SSL site. The data sent between your browser and the non-SSL webserver is unencrypted and can be intercepted by anyone with access to the network. The most obvious threats would be when you connect on a public network, such as at a coffee shop. See our earlier post for more information on vulnerabilities of non-SSL sites, and why sites should use always-on SSL. In our system we have an Amazon Web Services Elastic Load Balancer handling the SSL encryption rather than the webserver itself.

This is important because it makes our site less vulnerable than most. The exposed data is only on the load balancer, which only sees the traffic going across it, not the webserver’s internal data. This is why we make the comparison to using a coffee shop network, where another customer could “sniff” your traffic to the non-secured site.

Similarly, the only data that was vulnerable in our case was the data traveling across the load balancer as well as the data known to the load balancer, such as the encryption keys that the load balancer uses (including the private key). Most other webservers might also have exposed their internal data, but since ours is separated from our load balancer, it could not.


Potentially Exposed Data:

While we do not expect that any data was exposed from BrandVerity’s servers, the nature of the vulnerability makes it impossible to know for sure. Here are some important items that could have been exposed:

Passwords:

We would recommend changing all of your passwords for SSL (https) sites on the Internet, BrandVerity included. However, you should wait to do this until each website has re-keyed their SSL certificates. BrandVerity has already done this and it is now safe to change your password.

We believe it is very unlikely your password was exposed, but changing it ensures that if it was, no unauthorized access will be possible. This is also a good reminder to use different passwords on different websites – if your password was compromised on one site, an attacker could use it to gain access to another site.

Session Cookies:

If an attacker had captured session cookies, they could have logged in using the account associated with those cookies. This would be nearly an identical attack to the session-hijack vulnerabilities we identified in major affiliate networks and alerted the industry to several years ago.

We have expired our sessions so that any sessions that might have been captured during the vulnerability period cannot be reused. You will be prompted to log in again.

Certificate Private Key:

If an attacker used this vulnerability to capture a certificate private key, they could then decrypt captured traffic that had been encrypted with that key, or even impersonate BrandVerity on a network they controlled. This requires a Man-in-the-middle Attack in which the attacker needs to have access to your network. Capturing traffic requires access to the network, either because it is a public network, or because the attacker is inside your home network or corporate network.

We think this type of attack is unlikely in our case, because most of our customers are on private networks. Attackers on public networks likely wouldn’t see enough people accessing BrandVerity to make an attack interesting (as opposed to Facebook, for example, where there would be many users on a given public network).


Conclusion:

A vulnerability as significant as Heartbleed doesn’t come around very often, but when it does it demands immediate attention. While we at BrandVerity feel it is highly unlikely that you were at all impacted, we felt it was critical to share our process and experience with you as soon as possible. We expect that the effects of this vulnerability will reverberate through the online community in the days and weeks to come, and we hope that this message has helped you understand the impact of the issue and actions you can take to protect your data.

Notes from My AM Days Experience

It’s always hard to fully take in everything from a conference. There are so many people to meet, conversations to have, and things to learn, that it can be tough to retain everything. That’s why I always try to jot down some notes at the end of each day—just to keep reminders about what I learned and what happened over the course of the day. Here are some of the key points I remember from the recent Affiliate Management Days in San Francisco.

Informative Content

It was great to hear thought leaders like Brian Littleton, Brooke Schaaf, Robert Glazer, and others talking about hot button affiliate management topics. In particular, I remember a very productive discussion about the evolution of affiliate marketing. Much like how cell network technology is classified into generations (3G, 4G, etc.), affiliate programs can be categorized similarly. Programs can be classified as 1.0, 2.0, or even 3.0, depending on the level of involvement and management concepts applied.

As the industry advances, we are seeing the newest generation of affiliate programs shifting to more advanced forms of attribution, commission structures, and compliance. From my perspective, that is great to see. When affiliates are appropriately rewarded for the value they add, the industry benefits overall.

A Focus on Education

One of the things that really jumped out to me was the conference’s attention to industry education. There are some very complex challenges that the affiliate industry faces—so I loved hearing the different perspectives from network heads and agency leaders. I recall Chad Waite of AvantLink providing some rather interesting data about affiliate touch points during the sales cycle. His data truly highlighted the complexity of the affiliate channel. On average, the first affiliate touch point comes roughly 55 hours before the final purchase. On top of that, the average sale often involves multiple affiliates.

For me, this reinforced the need for transparency in the affiliate channel. The more that a merchant knows about their affiliates and the value those affiliates provide, the better they can do in attributing sales and distributing the deserved commissions.

Meaningful Conversations

Of course, I also spent plenty of time networking as well. This particular group of attendees provoked some strong one-on-one talks. I was fortunate to have some engaging conversations with friends, clients, and new colleagues. The exciting thing about those conversations is that they spanned a great breadth of topics, everywhere from discussing FTC compliance with Rachel Hirsch of Ifrah Law to catching up with Chris Calkin from HasOffers.

Announcing Our New Service: Content Monitoring

BrandVerity is thrilled to announce the launch of Content Monitoring! We’ve been developing, testing and iterating on Content Monitoring for months now, so we’re happy to share this news. We think Content Monitoring will be a very useful tool for ensuring that the content on your affiliates’ and partners’ sites is compliant with your policies—streamlining your process and saving your team valuable time.

Content Monitoring automatically scours the web for offers and promotions related to a particular brand. Then, after collecting the relevant pages, it evaluates each page for compliance. Just like with our other services, you can develop customized monitoring rules based on your own policies. We’ve also weaved in some additional features to make your process even more efficient. Among these features are: active discovery of previously unknown pages, detection of in-page changes, and storage of all the relevant supporting details.


Ways to Use Content Monitoring

Through our development process, we’ve continued to adapt and refine the service to match the needs of various users. Here are some examples of use cases that have been tested:

Maintaining Accurate Information Across Channels

How well are your marketing partners representing your offers and promotions? Now you can ensure that the details available on affiliates’ and partners’ sites accurately reflect your offers and your brand.

Taking Down Misleading Copy

Whether it’s an intentional attempt to delude customers or a case of something accidentally being misread, there can be serious repercussions from any misleading language on your partners’ sites. It’s beneficial to deal with phantom guarantees, omitted restrictions, invented discounts and other promises before they circle back to the brand.

Removing Any Associations with Off-Brand Content

In what context does your brand appear on marketing partners’ sites? What language do your marketing partners’ use about your brand? With Content Monitoring, you can prevent your partners from representing you in inappropriate ways.

Catching Expired Offers

When a prospective customer sees an old offer on a partner’s site, they’re in for a negative experience once they find out that the deal no longer exists. With Content Monitoring, you can prevent outdated offers from staying up on your partners’ sites.


Get Your Content Monitoring Demo

We look forward to an intense iteration cycle following the launch of Content Monitoring, and welcome you to try a demo of the service and provide your feedback. To get started, feel free to send us a note here, reach out to someone from our team directly, or email support@brandverity.com. We’d be happy to show you what Content Monitoring can do!

We’re excited to announce the launch of our new custom processes with Google and Bing! These processes enable us to provide feedback directly from the search engines about the status of your trademark complaints, giving you better visibility into your results whenever you report a trademark violation through our system. Our hope is that these new improvements will make it easier than ever to protect your brand from third-party trademark abusers in paid search.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s included with the update:


Clear Feedback from the Search Engines

One of the most frustrating things about sending a trademark complaint to the search engines is not knowing what happens to your request. Now, with this feedback from the support teams at Google and Bing, you’ll receive confirmation when a trademark violation has been taken down. This will be reflected with a “Taken Down” icon in our reports.

In the event that the engines decide not to take the ad down, you’ll get a response from them explaining why they’re still allowing the ad to run. These responses can provide some useful insights to help shape your future requests, getting you better results in the long run.

Coverage on the Other Engines, Too

These enhancements extend to the other engines in Google and Bing’s respective search networks. That means we’ll collect feedback for any trademark violations you report appearing on Google, Bing, Yahoo, AOL, and Ask.

We also group the trademark complaints by search network. Complaints about ads that appear on Google, AOL and Ask are routed to Google’s Advertising Legal Support Team. Complaints about ads appearing on Bing and Yahoo are routed to representatives from the Yahoo Bing Network. One added benefit to this is that an ad will get removed on all the related engines—even if we only caught it appearing on one.

A Full Record of Your Correspondence

We already store copies of all the complaint letters you send through the BrandVerity interface. Now, we’ll also store the responses that you receive from the search engines. We collect this in one place and thread the messages together, making it easy to check the status of your trademark complaints—whether you sent them yesterday or a year ago.


We Look Forward to Seeing Your Success!

We’ve already launched our custom process with Google and its search partners globally. That means this feedback is available for trademark violations appearing in any of the countries that we search from around the world. Our process with the Yahoo Bing Network has been rolled out for ads appearing in the United States and Canada, but we’ll look to expand that coverage soon.

Brands who use our Send to Engine tool are already experiencing solid success rates and collecting valuable feedback. If you aren’t using the tool yet, we certainly encourage you to join them and start protecting your brand from third-party trademark abuse. Feel free to reach out to us and we’ll help you get started.

The Oscars are fast-approaching and will air this Sunday, March 2nd. Web searches for related terms tend to spike in the days leading up to the show, and this year seems to be no exception. Just check out this Google Trends graph and you can see the uptick starting to form.

So, noting the influence that The Oscars have on searches, we decided to start some monitoring and follow up on our post from last year. The ads probably haven’t hit their peak yet, but we’ve already found a particularly interesting example that we wanted to share. Here’s an ad that we found showing up on Bing:

The-Oscars-Trademark-Abuse-Bing

Initially, we suspected that the ad would take you over to a toolbar download page or illegal streaming site populated with ads. We typically encounter sites promoting the “Television Fanatic” toolbar and the “Bring Me Sports” toolbar on these types of searches. We also find advertising-heavy sites that are hungry for pageviews.

But in this case, the ad actually takes you to a sparse landing page with some generic copy about watching the awards online. The page seems to be centered around two basic calls to action—a somewhat spammy text link and an image link that mimics a video play button. The landing page is actually just the site’s homepage, so you can check it out here. If you’d rather not give their site any traffic, here’s a screenshot of the landing page:

Oscars-Trademark-Abuse-Landing


A Misleading Offer

It’s worth taking a moment to inspect the image link a little more. First off, it’s made to appear as though it’s a video embed. (In fact, it actually looks quite a bit like the design that ESPN once used for its WatchESPN service back when it was called ESPN 360.) If you came to the site expecting an actual video stream, you’d probably go right for that link—much to your disappointment.

What’s more misleading is that this ad started appearing on February 24th, a full 6 days before The Oscars. So, let’s say a searcher types “Oscars” into Bing, unsure of when the show is actually going to air, and then clicks on LiveOscarsStream.com’s ad. They then click on what looks like an embedded video stream—only to be taken elsewhere.

So, where does that click bring the visitor? If you test any of the page’s links, you’ll be taken to a signup page on the site. The signup page actually uses the HTML “frame” tag to load in a payment form hosted by the affiliate network. Instead of a video, you get asked for your credit card. That’s not a great experience.

Is This Allowed?

There are two sides to this issue: A) Is this something the merchant allows? and B) Is this something that the search engines allow? Based on last year’s analysis, the answer to the latter is almost certainly “No.” So we’ll focus on the answer to A.

What’s the merchant’s stance here? While the affiliate’s tactics are unsavory, none of that matters if the merchant permits them. We decided to check into the merchant’s policies and see what position they take. Here’s the most relevant passage we found:

(f) You will not use the names, trademarks and/or logos of content providers, including but not limited to broadcast or cable television channels (e.g., ABC, CBS, FOX, TBS, AMC) or movie channels (e.g., HBO, SHOWTIME), or the name, titles, trademarks and/or logos of programs, including sporting events, teams, and their owners (e.g., NFL, MLB, NBA) (collectively, “Prohibited Terms”).

It seems that The Oscars would fit into the “programs” part of the passage. And although it’s never good to see examples of affiliate non-compliance, the merchant’s foresight is definitely a positive here. At least they’re anticipating the ways that an affiliate could mislead customers.

What’s Next?

Interestingly, after checking DomainTools to learn more about the affiliate’s site, we learned that the site has only been around since last Friday. It was created on February 21st of this year, so it seems to have been made purely for the purpose of poaching traffic and manufacturing illegitimate commissions.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see a set of similar sites pop up over the next few days. We’ll make sure to continue monitoring the terms and update this post if we find any new ones engaging in these tactics.

These Valentine’s Day PPC Ads Made Us Chuckle

Valentine’s Day sure seems to bring out the creativity from paid search teams. Maybe it’s easier to stand out when so many advertisers are using the traditional jewelry and chocolates narratives, or perhaps it’s just fun to manufacture relevance to the topic of love.

Either way, after monitoring a set of Valentine’s Day keywords over the past week, we felt the need to share some of our favorite ads. Here are our top 8, in no particular order:


Mancrates.com Abandons the Frills

Mancrates-Valentine-Ad

Does your significant other have spartan tastes? If so, you might want to cut the sappy stuff and grab him a “Mancrate”—a kit packed with manly goodies such as beef jerky, beer paraphernalia, or knives.


Everybody Loves Money

Western-Union-Valentine-Ad-Small

Out of ideas? Let your loved one get something for him or herself! Western Union seems to be offering a free transfer fee in the UK today.


An Opportunity for the Single Folks

Foxrc-Valentine-Ad

If you’re still searching for that special someone, you’re free to stop by Culinary Dropout’s Singles Awareness Day event (AKA “SAD”). Is this a viable option, or is it just mean?


No Matter Who You Are, Nintendo Loves You

Nintendo-Valentine-Ad

Perhaps it’s comforting to know that Mario or Princess Peach will always appreciate you?


In Case a Mancrate Wasn’t Enough

007Fragrances-Valentine-Ad-Small

What guy wouldn’t want to smell “Dangerously Sophisticated”? The only question is whether the colognes are shaken or stirred.


Say It with a Candy Shell

MMs-Valentine-Ad

It’s not so much the ad that makes this great, but the offer itself. M&M’s will let you make a personalized set of candies to celebrate with your Valentine, which we think is pretty cool.


Singing Telegrams Are Back

Singagram-Valentine-Ad-Small

I don’t know what to say other than that I love the sassy copy of this ad.


Just Add Bacon

Popcorn-Factory-Valentine-Ad

We’re not trying to be gender biased here, we promise. It just so happens that there were far more absurd ads promoting gifts for men. As if the Mancrates and 007 Fragrances weren’t plenty, here comes the Popcorn Factory with its bacon popcorn. It almost seems that most of the bacon sold these days is for novelty purposes.


Did We Miss Any?

If you saw any humorous Valentine’s Day ads in the wild, we’d love to hear about them.

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