To say that Seattle loves their football would be an understatement: the Seahawks are basically a religion around here. And, while it pains my San Francisco-born-and-bred heart, it’s hard not to get swept up in the excitement about football season—and about the Seahawks (just don’t tell my dad!).

But we’re not the only ones getting excited about the kickoff game this week: as we’ve pointed out here, here, and here, big television events like the Super Bowl and the Oscars can bring trademark poachers out in droves as they look to capitalize on the increased searches for these terms. At BrandVerity, we thought the start of football season might have a similar impact and so last week we set up some monitoring to see if we could catch anyone looking to turn an illegitimate profit on keywords related to DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket Package.

Sure enough, we found several interesting examples of brand bidding—much of it by authorized dealers, which raises some of the questions we’ve been discussing in our reseller series. As discussed in the first posts of our reseller series, partner bidding can be a good way for brands to dominate the search results and ensure that when their brand terms are searched, unauthorized sites do not appear among the top hits. Telecom companies, like DirecTV, sell a great deal of product through licensed retailers, meaning they likely allow those resellers to bid on some or all of their brand terms. The downside, however, is a lack of control over customer experience when a consumer navigates through a retailer site rather than through DirecTV’s.


So, what did we find?

DTV-Sales-Ad-Google

Our monitoring picked up several websites bidding on terms related to NFL Sunday Ticket that might raise some eyebrows among executives at DirecTV. In particular, searches for “nflst.directv.com”—the streaming site for NFL Sunday Ticket—brought up some ads that seemed potentially detrimental to DirecTV’s brand and ability to provide excellent customer service.

One ad we found was for a site called DTV-Sales.com, with the headline “Get NFL Sunday Ticket”. This ad directs the user to a landing page that offers a background image advertising a variety of DirecTV packages with an “Order Now” button at the top.


DTV-Landing-Page

Confusingly, there’s nothing you can click on this page except for the “Order Now” button at the top. Since the entire page is a background image, none of the expected website functionality is there—no hover states, no highlightable text, nothing to click. It definitely took me a moment to figure out how to move forward in the ordering process here. And even when you click the “Order Now” button, you get redirected to a site called TVSavingsForYou.com. Despite being an “Authorized Dealer” of DirecTV, TVSavingsforYou.com also creates some friction of its own. You have to hover over a “Save Big” piece of artwork to get a visible mention of NFL Sunday Ticket. Otherwise, the only information about NFL Sunday Ticket is buried well below the fold in an section that’s easy to miss (it isn’t even pictured in the screenshot below).


Dealer-Landing-Page

Another search for “nflst.directv.com” pulls the following ad from a site called DirectStarTV.com:

DirectStarTV-Ad

It’s also an “Authorized Dealer” of DirecTV and is offering NFL Sunday Ticket as part of the packages it sells.

DirectStarTV-Landing-Page

These two sites (DTV-Sales and DirectStarTV) also appear on searches for keywords such as “nfl sunday ticket,” “nfl sunday ticket package,” “dtv nfl sunday ticket,” “nfl sunday ticket cable,” and “DirecTV sunday ticket special.” DirectStarTV, in particular, often shows up in the 1st or 2nd ad position.

Because both sites are authorized dealers of DirecTV products and they are advertising that NFL Sunday Ticket is included in certain packages that they sell, their bidding on brand terms is legal according to Google’s policies and likely according to DirecTV’s as well. But, a few red flags do pop up regarding these sites and their bidding activity from the perspective of DirecTV’s brand protection and customer satisfaction.


What are the potential problems here?

Friction for Current Customers

The first problem that comes to mind with sites like DirectStarTV and TVSavingsForYou bidding on DirecTV’s terms is the potential for friction. One instance of this friction is the confusion for existing DirecTV subscribers—specifically those who stream football games via nflst.directv.com. Let’s say a DirecTV customer, in an effort to log in and start watching a game, typed the URL “nflst.directv.com” into Google by accident. What would they make of an ad placed by one of DirecTV’s dealers? There are a few potential outcomes:

  • Scenario A: the customer simply ignores it
  • Scenario B: the customer notices the incentive offered in the dealer’s ad, causing them to question the value they’re getting from DirecTV as a direct customer
  • Scenario C: the customer notices the incentive offered in the dealer’s ad, causing them to pursue the offer and try to switch their service

While Scenario A would be relatively benign, Scenarios B and C could actually be quite harmful for DirecTV. They hurt brand image, discourage customers from purchasing direct, and complicate the buying process to the point where the brand may be unnecessarily competing with itself. These complications can result in increased cost-per-sale and lost subscribers. Those outcomes aren’t great.

Friction for Potential Customers

What if the person searching for “nflst.directv.com” wasn’t already a customer? What if they were interested in signing up for DirecTV’s streaming service? In that scenario, the dealers’ ads cause even more friction!

It’s unlikely that someone interested in streaming would want to purchase from one of these dealers. These dealer sites are promoting DirecTV television and internet packages—they are not offering the streaming service at all. At best, the prospective customer would probably ignore the deal. At worst, they may end up signing up for something that’s different from what they wanted—which can lead to all sorts of issues down the road. Ultimately, a customer who ends up on one of these sites looking for NFL Sunday Ticket streaming will likely leave disappointed and frustrated.

But let’s say that a customer is looking for the television service only. Perhaps she searched for one of the other terms on which these ads appeared like “dtv nfl sunday ticket”. Would she be satisfied with the service offered? The answer is a maybe, at best. These sites can sell her a television package that includes NFL Sunday Ticket—but only if she’s a new customer to DirecTV. If she’s an existing customer looking to add the package, these sites will direct her back to DirecTV.com to complete the transaction. (It doesn’t appear that these sites direct the user back through an affiliate link, but there may be some kind of referral tracking in play.)


Existing-Customer-Page

If indeed she is a new customer, she still cannot buy DirecTV’s services online through this dealer—she needs to call them and complete the transaction over the phone or enter her information into a lead generation form so that they can call her. From where I stand as a consumer, this added step would likely frustrate me and keep me from purchasing through one of these sites, although many customers may complete their transactions this way. It is, of course, difficult for DirecTV to monitor what the customer experience might look like on that phone call and a less-than-stellar experience could negatively impact customer retention and loyalty down the road. The company will also end up paying a commission on a sale they could have made directly.


Do authorized resellers and dealers always have your best interests in mind?

One of the particularly interesting things that came up in the course of our monitoring is that Direct StarTV is a “Preferred Online Retailer” of DirecTV, along with three other websites. According to DirecTV, these retailers achieve this status “because of their commitment to DIRECTV’s high customer satisfaction standards.” All four of these sites operate on the same basic model as Direct StarTV, in that they sell DirecTV packages over the phone or ask the customer to fill out a lead gen form so that they can get in touch later.

Of the four preferred online retailers, two were actively bidding on terms related to NFL Sunday Ticket over the past two weeks, including searches for “nflst.directv.com”. While DirecTV clearly knows the basic model of these sites and approves of it, I do have to wonder if they’re aware of how and how often these sites are bidding on brand terms in paid search—and how often they’re bidding on terms for products they don’t sell. DirecTV’s must find partnering with these sites to be beneficial, but are they also aware of how this kind of partner bidding can increase friction for sales, produce negative customer experiences, and drive up the cost of their keywords? If they aren’t thinking about these issues, they may want to do so—and consider revising their terms of service with these partners.

Thoughts on these kinds of telecom partner relationships? Questions about how to track this kind of partner bidding? Predictions about the upcoming football season? Leave your comments below or contact us at BrandVerity.