Representing Competitors in Google AdWords

When it comes to ethics and search marketing there are some very dubious lines that are and have been skewed by search marketing companies in South Africa owing mainly to the lack of knowledge of their clients.

That said, it is a rapidly expanding industry in this country and indeed worldwide and on the flip side there are some agencies making great efforts to improve the SEM (Search Engine Marketing) service that they offer to their clients. The nature of the South African entrepreneurial spirit also means that associated technology, tactics and angles are in hot pursuit as South Africa and specifically Cape Town positions itself as viable global ICT hot spot. The existing and potential foreign investment and outsourcing to South African SEM and ICT companies has far reaching effects for our economy and job creation. Furthermore, in terms of SEM, the nature of Google’s global system opens endless opportunities for local companies to represent themselves to foreign markets through a cost effective and measurable medium.

Google has not released figures of how much South African agencies collectively spend with Google on their clients’ behalf but if we take what our small agency spends for clients it must be many millions of dollars per annum and that is to err on the side of conservative estimation.

The problem facing the growth of this ‘heaving with potential’ industry is primarily a lack of skills in the arena. That will change in the not so distant future as companies like ourselves are forced to train graduates in the way of SEM. The more pressing issue is the fact that there are not enough specialist SEM companies to service the growing interest and need for fulfilling the requirements and needs of the local market. And this brings us back to the question of ethics.

Simply speaking it is counterproductive for an SEM company to represent clients who are competitors on some level. The very nature of the bidding system used on the Google Adwords system, for example, means that representing competitors causes the agency ends to bid their clients’ against each other. This in turn increases both clients advertising spend.

Turning away clients is not something any company wants to do but in certain instances it is vital in maintaining the trust of existing clients and maintaining a level of ethical marketing and advertising that would apply to offline agencies.

In terms of traditional advertising agencies, we wouldn’t find BMW and Mercedes serviced by the same creative agency now would we? And that’s without having to consider the added complication of directly increasing their respective advertising budgets!

We are having to turn away business because companies that are seeking our services are direct or indirect competitors of existing clients. Traffic Brand feels very strongly about maintaining honest relationships with our client base and is not willing to compromise these relationships for new business however tempting the associated income might be.

Sadly there will always be agencies that cross these lines. But as the industry expands and marketers become wise to the risk of entrusting their online campaigns to unprincipled organisations the demand for exclusivity will increase.

This begs the question of how we, as an industry, can responsibly expand the SEM services available to South African companies without compromising on ethics and without adding to our own competitors’ market share.