Friday, September 15, 2006

Gucci knock-offs, SEM-style

Because VC's are awash with money and because search is the new Comstock gold mine, lots of firms have been getting funded in the SEM space that really have no business existing. This is a testament to the me-too nature of most VC firms and ultimately the desperation with which larger investment firms, retirement funds and the like are trying to achieve return in a target-poor investment environment.

Take SearchForce, for example, who by all appearances has built their entire business model around copycatting Efficient Frontier. For over a year the CEO was buying EF's brand name on Google and Yahoo, and for as long as they've been around their marketing message has been an EF knock-off. Case in point:

Do a search for "maximize the effectiveness of millions of keywords" on Google and you'll notice that results 1-5 and 7-10 are EF press releases going back to 2004, before SearchForce even existed.

That, my friends, is plagiarism, and pretty blatant at that. At least some of our other competitors like 360i/SearchIgnite take the time to change a few words here and there rather than steal our marketing message outright.

Fortunately, it's not possible to copy EF's technology, experience and world-class team. As is the case with Chinese rip-offs of designer hand-bags, the sophisticated buyer will know the difference, hopefully before buying.

12 Comments:

Blogger - Well Wisher said...

Sounds like a rant. Possibly from one of EF employees? If so, very unprofessional.

3:36 PM

 
Blogger searchquant said...

I'm not sure what you mean, Well Wisher. As is clear from my postings, I am an EF employee and the purpose of my post is to make clear to those in the SEM community who care that some SEM firms are stooping to ridiculously unethical tactics in order to try and win business.

4:18 PM

 
Blogger Joe Agliozzo said...

I thought you announced you were leaving EF? I guess you are back.

1. What's wrong with buying efficient frontier or EF as a keyword? As you well know, Google allows it and there have been several court cases deciding that this is another form of comparative advertising. I would wager that VIRTUALLY EVERY SINGLE on of your customers at EF buys their competitors keywords and you manage the bid prices on these keywords, so isn't your statement a bit hypocritical? (Disclosure: as you know, in the past we bought Efficient Frontier when advertising BetterPPC. You asked us to stop and we declined, I believe you then starting buying BetterPPC (our trademarked company name) as well).

2. Do you really believe there is some genius in the phrase "maximize the effectiveness of millions of keywords"? Isn't this what you and your thousands of competitors small and large actually do?

If you guys are so much better than SearchForce, you really wouldn't seem to have anything to worry about, anyway. But taking the time to personally bash the CEO of the company with petty complaints like these seems silly.

1:49 PM

 
Blogger searchquant said...

Hey Joe,

I'm not sure what court cases you're referring to, but you might want to read this EWeek article on the case Google lost in France and which was brought by LVMH (France's #1 luxury brand conglomerate). It's crystal clear in its ruling and implication for Google. Google may well have a reactionary stand on trademarks (meaning, they'll take a competitor's ads down but only IF the brand owner requests it), but the courts in both the LVMH and GEICO case have sided against Google.

http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1895,1983434,00.asp

Beyond the legal precedent, there's something I personally care much more about, namely the ethics of those who take advantage of the brand equity someone has acquired in order to further their own cause. I LOVE Efficient Frontier, I really, really LOVE the company. I and the rest of the company have worked our tails off over the last several years building the world's largest, most successful SEM firm. Do you really expect me to have much respect for someone who takes advantage of my & my team's sweat & tears, and USES what I've built without my consent and in order to further their *own* business?

Put all the legalese aside. I think I have a right to look you and others who engage in this tactic in the face and tell you that you are acting in a way that dishonors you own names. Do you feel good about doing this? Do you feel like you're earning your keep? Do you feel like you'll be able to look your kids in the face as you explain to them the tactic? I think not. That is what bothers me most and why I make a point of calling a spade a spade and exacting some moral justice in the Wild West that is search.

As for your statement about EF customers, you're right - some of our clients advertise on others brands. That said, however, they do it in the following cases:

1)When the brand owner is a client of theirs and who doesn't have their own ppc campaign.

2)When they sell that brand's products and therefore have the right to advertise on their brand.

3)When they sell a particular hotel's rooms and therefore have the right to advertise on their brand.

With 20M keywords under management, there statistically have to be situations where clients are doing things they shouldn't. That said, however, we are very often the firm that actually mediates our clients' brand keyword disputes. I can't tell you how many times an account manager here has told one mortgage lending client, for example, that another mortgage lending client wants him/her to cease & desist; this has literally happened dozens of times.

I'll draw a big, fat distinction between our management of those clients and what you and SF are doing: you knowingly engage in the ethical lapse that is trademark squatting, and EF neither engages in the tactic nor condones it. Try to be the moral relativist all you want, but we both know who's on the ethical high ground.

Moving along in your list of questionable comments, we arrive at the plagiaristic use of EF's terminology. Let me be clear - it's not the particular phrase that they chose to plagiarize that I have an issue with; there are others that I could choose from but that one served as a good example.

The point is again very, very simple. Plagiarism is wrong, those who engage in it are unethical for doing so, and *it's illegal*. If you have any doubts about this, I suggest you read Jay Weintraub's blog posting on LMB's successful suit against NexTag, a firm that reminds me of someone else in their ruthless, morally spineless and facile approach to business:

http://www.jayweintraub.com/2006/01/lowermybills_wi.html

Finally, Joe, I'd like to address your last comment, namely that it's 'petty' to defend one's ground. I'll leave it to my small blog audience and God to decide, but my own ardent opinion is that I owe it to myself, my coworkers and my family to defend what's mine. I asked said CEO nicely no less than five times over more than a year to cease and desist - five times, man. If you mean to tell me that I'm being petty in publicly calling a spineless jellyfish of a man what he is in order to defend my ground and help my company live up to its potential, then all I can say is you and I come from two completely different planets.

Know this, though: they're no longer bidding on our brand, leaving only you and iCrossing in the dubious position of brand leeches.

So what are you gonna do, and what are you gonna tell your kids?

3:10 PM

 
Blogger Joe Agliozzo said...

Coke vs. Pepsi man. Ever heard of it? Ever heard of the "taste challenge"?

It's called COMPARISON ADVERTISING, and it's been around and ethical forever.

In search, it's also the quickest way to get "compared" to a "competitor" and there's nothing wrong with that and never will be.

Thank god we don't live in France! (maybe you would be happier there, though?)

I will say this for you, I do appreciate your strong opinions, although I disagree with you, I admire the fact that you put your thoughts out there. I still think you should lay off the personal attacks though, including challenging me on "what I will tell my kids". That's simply not appropriate, in my opinion. It's your blog though, so obviously you are free to do what you want, and express your opinion - again, this is America (not France).

Cheers!

12:06 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

SearchForce has hired a new COO and VP of Products who is a jellyfish of a human and has no ethical conduct at all in his behavior so perhaps it is a good fit.

8:08 PM

 
Blogger bhutush said...

This guy is both pompous and full of himself - he claims that he is going to do GREAT things and that ALL his friends say so. In my humble opinion, someone who is going to do great things does not need to say so.

9:47 PM

 
Blogger bhutush said...

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6:44 PM

 
Blogger bhutush said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:23 AM

 
Blogger bhutush said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:42 PM

 
Blogger bhutush said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:07 PM

 
Blogger Valery said...

Gucci is perfect everywhere! Gucci jewelry is just gorgeous!

9:35 AM

 

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