One day in the last few weeks, I happened to read this news story.
The basics: Law Firm A, a big personal injury firm that spends big bucks on marketing/advertising, sued Law Firm B because Firm B had been — in a search engine sense — attempting to glom onto Law Firm A's reputation and fame. They did so in a pretty clever way. Using Google AdWords, Firm B bid on certain key words (in this case, the name of Law Firm A) for the purposes of a sponsored link. I have no desire to bore you with an extended explanation of pay-per-click advertising, but let's put it this way: every time someone searched on Google — by name — for Law Firm A (which had "earned" that search with their reputation or their advertising or whatever), then naturally the first "organic" listing in the search results was (as it should be) Law Firm A. However, right above that #1 organic listing, appeared the "sponsored" listing for Law Firm B.
Clever. But not very cool, in my view. It's a sort of confession that…we know you beat us in the marketplace, we know you have a bigger reputation, but rather than earn or buy our own presence in that marketplace, we're going to be the gnat that attaches itself to you and rides on your reputation.
The court ruled that Law Firm B had done nothing illegal and although I disagreed with some of the quotes from the defense attorney ("There is no evidence of confusion here") I didn't think much more of it.
It occurred to me that I hadn't performed a Google search on my own name for a while. So I did, and this is what I found (click on the image to enlarge):
The organic search results were what you might expect. My firm and my blog were the first two listings. But there on top of those results is a paid listing from KDunn Marketing, one of my competitors (at least in some minor sense). Clearly, some genius at KDunn decided that a good way to attract business was to advertise to people who were searching for Mark Merenda.
OK, I guess there's a way I could see that as a compliment. They want to grab onto my coattails. Fine. I don't like it much or respect it much, but it's not illegal. I do think it's borderline deceptive. And I've always wondered how companies that start the client relationship with a deception (like those debt settlement firms implying that they are government agencies with ads that begin, "A program has been established…") can hope for a successful long-term engagement. But who knows, maybe they're only looking for a quick hit.
So far, I was a bit irritated and a bit flattered. Then I clicked on KDunn's advertisement and landed here (click on the image to enlarge):
Note the language: "Your search was for Mark Merenda and you found it."
Well, actually, no, you didn't.
I would think that the unwary attorney, searching for me and my services, would be likely to think (or reasonably infer) that they had found me, and that I was the author of the "Special Report" being offered.
Note to Kathryn Dunn: you might want to try to attach yourself to this blog, as well — it has 7,000 subscribers — subscribers that I earned by putting my best thought and effort into this blog every week for the last seven years.
So what do my readers think? Should I be mad, or should I laugh? All's fair in love and war, or dirty pool?