The Dark Side of Search: Brand Bidding on Black Friday

Pat Hong Posted by Pat Hong

In periods of high volume sales, such as Black Friday, brand bidding can present significant challenges for brand advertisers. Brand bidding, the practice where a competitor brand advertiser on the search terms of another competitor or rival (i.e. Adidas running Google text or shopping ads on the search term ‘nike’) can be a huge problem for retailers. It is a practice that goes completely unregulated in search, and competitors generally have complete freedom to bid on competitor brand terms as they please, disrupting user journeys and brand equity clickshare.

The problem is magnified in periods of high volume sales due to the increased search volume for household brands. Across the 2018 Black Friday / Cyber Monday weekend, Adthena conducted a brand bidding study to learn more about which brands are most impacted by brand bidding, and which brands engage in the practice most, Adthena observed ads on pure brand search terms.


Premise

Brand bidding is rampant in the search industry, and is a practice that goes completely unchecked. Competitors have the freedom to bid on competitor brand terms as they please, disrupting user journeys and brand clickshare.

Over the Black Friday Weekend, competitors enter a fierce contest in search to win customers as sales volumes ramp up for the holiday period. In these conditions, Adthena expect widespread brand bidding to impact many major US retailers.

To learn more about which brands are most impacted by brand bidding, and which brands engage in the practice most, Adthena observed ads on pure brand search terms.

Our Analysis

Adthena analyzed brand bidding across the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend, for the 100 largest brick and mortar and online brands in US retail (according to the NRF). Brand bidding in this context, are instances where a competitor brand advertises on the search terms of a competitor or rival (i.e. adidas running Google text or shopping ads when consumers search for ‘nike’). Also included in the analysis are the brand names of major ecommerce providers such as ‘amazon’, ‘wayfair’, or ‘shoes.com’.

Adthena observed competitor ads on pure brand terms, such as ‘williams sonoma’ or ‘nike’, dozens of times per hour across the entire Black Friday weekend. Our goal is to determine ‘which US brands experienced the most brand bidding across the Black Friday Weekend’, and ‘which brands were the most prolific brand infringers’. Any ad from competitor retailers, on search terms that reference the competitor brand, was recognized as an infringing ad.

Who were the most prolific brand bidders?

For this analysis, the: Brand Bidding Rate = Number of Infringing Ads / Number of Ads placed by infringing advertiser on their own search terms

Amazon was the biggest brand bidder across the Black Friday weekend. Their brand bidding rate of 182.18% meant they were 1.8x more likely to appear on a competitor brand term than they were on their on brand terms.

Lowe’s were also prolific in their brand bidding activity. The majority of their brand bidding infringements were on ‘sears’ search terms, as they capitalized on the fact that consumers searching for Sears still draw significant search volume.

JC Penney also bid heavily on Sear’s search term and measured a brand bidding rate of 49.08%.

Moreso than other retail and department store brands, Sears are being targeted by their competitors for brand bidding. Here both Lowe’s and Amazon are advertising on the search term Sears.

(Interestingly Amazon’s advertisement defaults to ‘Sear’ in the copy, suggesting it could be part of an automated keyword group campaign.)

Which brands experienced the most brand bidding?

For this analysis, the: Brand Infringement Rate = Number of Infringing ads / Total number of ads placed by the advertiser on owned brand terms.

Having recently filed for bankruptcy, Toys R’ Us and Mattress Firm experienced the most brand bidding on their search terms across the Black Friday weekend. Both terms were targeted as competitors looked to capitalize on the gap the retailer has left in the market.

The search term ‘toys r us’ for example’, measured a brand infringement rate of 100% because there were no ads observed from the advertiser: toysrus.com (no longer trading) on this brand term.

As previously mentioned, ‘sears’ was also a heavily targeted brand term, however the company does continues to advertise on their own brand for sears.com.

Wayfair were also targeted by a range of competitors. In the above example, coupon site cybermonday247.com were targeting their brand term for the sale period.

Key Takeaways

The number of observed search queries that Amazon appeared on during the period was 1.8x more likely on competitor brand terms than their own. This figure was significantly higher for Amazon than that of any other advertiser.

In fact, all other advertisers appeared on their own terms more frequently than competitor brand terms. (Lowes [58%], JC Penney [49%], and Macy’s [19%] were the next most prolific brand bidders, however all appeared more frequently on their own brand terms).

For this reason, it is the scale and extensiveness of Amazon’s brand bidding that is noteworthy here. To capture this brand search volume, Amazon are employing the full might of their ad spend (this inflates the price of the brand auction).


Want to learn more? Read the Brand Bidding Impact Report.

Brand Bidding Impact Report

About the author

Pat Hong
Pat Hong
Pat is the Digital Content Strategist at Adthena. He works on Adthena's content projects, covering adtech news, trends, and insights. He studied Film and Television at the University of West London.