Valentine’s Day AdWords “War” Among Florists Highlights Another Google Challenge

Imagine searching on your own company’s name and finding a competitor’s ad that said you were “Sold Out” right on your business’ most important holiday. That’s what florists like the owner of Chez Bloom in Minnesota had happen, as originally reported by Brand Channel. Indeed, as the owner of Chez Bloom Laura Chase told BrandChannel, she searched for a lot of other local flower shops, and found them “Sold Out” — at least in AdWords ads — as well.

Jen Caroll, a spokesperson for the AdWords advertiser in question, ProFlowers, said that the situation was inadvertent. Here’s the statement she gave to BrandChannel:

“It turns out that the ad in question was part of a Google ad campaign of ours to advertise that OUR flowers (ProFlowers) were sold out for Valentine’s Day, but we could still accept orders for Wednesday and beyond. Our marketing team bids on tens of thousands of floral-related keywords and keyword combinations which trigger ads to appear in search results pages. An unintended consequence is that search engine matching technology, run by Google in this case, inputs the searched-upon keyword (e.g., “bloom”) into the ProFlowers ad. The fact is our team entered the “sold out” descriptor for ProFlowers’ products—not for the florist’s. Because we have a dedicated team closely monitoring our social media channels, as soon as we became aware of the unintended consequence we worked immediately with our search engine providers to rectify the problem.”

The technology referred to in this case is Google’s Keyword Insertion capability for advanced users. Advertisers create a single ad for a list of keywords, placing this code — {keyword:default text} — in the place where they’d like the user’s search term to be auto-populated. In this case, keywords for the names of competitors, including Chez Bloom, were apparently used in the list of keywords to be auto-populated. Instead of terms like “Flowers” appearing before the “Sold Out” descriptor, the competitor’s name appeared instead.

Though bidding on competitors’ trademarked keywords, and even using them in ad text, are fair game on Google, the company does have policies preventing false or misleading ad copy. According to a spokesperson, “Google allows advertisers to bid on competitor keywords as well as to use competitor terms in the ad text itself as long as advertisers do not make any false or inaccurate claims in their ads (see more here). We use a combination of manual and automated processes to enforce this policy. Ads that are found in violation of our policies will be removed.”

Indeed, the ads were removed later on the same day that ChezBloom noticed the problem. But that didn’t keep florists from being up in arms — because Google is supposed to be reviewing the ads before they’re displayed. Florist Catherine Hillen-Rulloda, of Avante Gardens in Anaheim, Calif., wrote a particularly scathing blog post:

First, we had ProFlowers telling shoppers seeking local florists BY NAME in Google searches that the stores were sold out of flowers. It’s a completely despicable ad tactic that diverted consumers by lying about local flower shop inventories. Despite having plenty of beautiful blooms for Valentine’s Day, the drop-shipper tried to suck in late buyers by falsifying the flower availability at these shops. Shame on Liberty Media. Shame on ProFlowers. And shame on the Google staffers who approved those ads.” [emphasis in the original text]

The situation highlights the challenges that Google has in policing its AdWords ads for compliance — with its own policies, with legalities in various jurisdictions around the world (see: $500 million settlement regarding illegal pharmacy ads) including trademark and copyright laws.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Google: AdWords | Top News

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  • gozacgo

    I’m an SEM in Minneapolis with a friend owns a boutique flower shop*. It is nearly impossible to compete with these big players who spend top dollar to make it look like they are a local flower shop.

    The adwords advertiser will always take the fall for this kind of mistake, but we have to remember that very often agencies are hired guns that do the bidding of the client.

    At the end of the day, the client is right because they pay us. So despite warnings and protests about the consequences we do what they say.

    In other situations, the agency is accountable to bring in a certain number of leads at a predetermined cost per, which may lead them to do things like this in order to achieve those goals.

    Either way it’s a lose/lose situation for the local business.

  • http://www.pixelrage.net P.R.

    Nothing matters more to Google than the almighty dollar, and the holy AdWord$ ad profits. Google isn’t a search engine, it’s an ad board where the 1% fight to fill up the top 1/3rd of SERPs.

    Case in point as to why I have been using Bing lately and love getting that old search engine feeling with actual organic results.

  • A.T.

    Not sure if chez bloom not showing an ad for a query on their brand was a result of Google targeting because of the computer doing the search but if it was because they’re not bidding on their brand then they only have themselves to blame. This is why you bid on your brand! Get some sitelinks up and take as much real estate as you can.

  • http://www.chezbloom.com Chez Bloom

    A.T. Your post make no sense to me. We are Chez Bloom the florist in this article. Why would we have ourselves to blame for Proflowers advertising that we are sold out? We don’t use adwords. We have good organic ranking and have no desire to try to outspend National companies with millions of $ of Ad money. Bottom line: Google approved a fraudulent Advertisement by Proflowers and that is just 100% wrong. I agree with P.R. Its all about money.

  • http://www.ethanmowery.info Ethan Mowery

    I think the best you can do is report the offending ad and get it removed for using your brand name.

    Just to play devils advocate, maybe this was an honest mistake. I could see this happening accidentally if proflowers was using dynamic keyword insertion on their ad title and also had competing flowers shops as part of their keywords. Perhaps their flower shop was sold out for valentines day and they changed their ad text to reflect that, but didn’t pause their ads because they still wanted to take orders further into the future.

    I don’t really believe that though. I think it’s more likely they may have listed competitors as keywords and used dynamic keyword insertion, but did have the intention of turning folks away from those business.

    With that said I have a hard time believing that this is some Google conspiracy to make more money. Flowers in themselves aren’t that expensive to advertise (~$2.00 cpc), and it would cost next to nothing to advertise on ‘chez bloom’. Not to mention with DKI the ad could have actually appeared like {KeyWord:Flowers} $19.99 – Sold Out Till Valentines and wouldn’t have appeared as a fraudulent ad when being reviewed.

  • http://www.chezbloom.com Chez Bloom

    I agree, I don’t think it was a Google conspiracy to make more money either, they just dropped the ball and let in Ads that violated their own policies. I do agree that Proflowers listed competitors as keywords with the intention of turning customers away from local shops and driving them to the PF website. Other shops have screenshots as well. Google dropped the ball and Proflowers swept away some money from local business nationwide. It was cheap, dirty and now that I have read the number of complaints that Proflowers have gotten…possibly desperate as well.

  • jlta9761

    Chez:
    We all know that Proflowers did this to steal sales. they have to resort to this kind of “back alley” business, because the word to getting out there that these 1-800 companies are only interested in making money. What they forget is that they need us florist!!! They need us!
    I had an unfortunate experience with FTD. They made promises to get us to stay on with them, but never owned up to their promise. Do what I did. I filed a complaint with the BBB in their state, easy to do. Then I filled a complaint with the FTC. Easy and online. Maybe it will get their attention and others. FTD dropped their collection with me, because they knew I was willing to go all the way to expose them and their shady business practices.Again, they need us!!! They need florist to conduct their business. I don’t get it. Good luck to you and I wouldn’t let this go by. I would tell who ever listened what Proflowers did to your company. Good luck!

  • Skip

    Proflowers has a long history of deceptive marketing and other practices. Anyone remember the lawsuits that resulted from their “fresher than local florists” ads when they were in fact using those same local florists to fill the order?

    How about the “Easy Saver Scam”
    or the similar scam after that one (both are the center of class action lawsuits),

    You need to remember that Proflowers, Shari’s Berrie, Cherry Moon Farms, Red Envelope and more are all part of Provide Commerce, if one company gets shut down, they will just roll over to one of the other names that are all using the same back end. If you shut down Provide Commerce they will just push them on QVC (same owners) or one of the other companies owned by the same parent companies. They are so big they also own the Atlanta Braves, even DirecTV was part of the same company until they spun it off into a separate one last year (common chairman of the board).

    My opinion is that this was planned, they have a long history of deceptive marketing and if one company gets shut down they just bump up one of the other ones.

    Even in my segment (chocolate covered strawberries), they are using fake chocolate while extolling the health benefits of chocolate.

    There is an attorney in San Diego that already has two class action lawsuits pending against them (easy saver and a similar setup), if this did damage the florists then they should talk to him, third strike brings in RICO (triple damages..), he would also be able to get Googole to release all the company names that were effected as members of the class.

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