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Tesco Takes Moral Stand Against Google Awords?

9 May 2008 by Mother Superior

UK supermarket titan Tesco has announced that it is not bidding on rivals’ names despite the introduction of Google Adwords changes. If true what are Tesco’s motivations?

Immediate reactions have been that Tesco does not want to dance to Google’s tune and that the move is designed to keep the cost of search engine advertising down. And Tesco would not be the only company in the UK commercial sector showing defiance to the US goliath.

Or does Tesco have something else on its mind. Naturally, if it appears to take the moral high ground and does not bid on names such as Sainsbury’s or Asda, it will want them to do the same. Just maybe, the market leader’s concerns of rivals diverting its intended online customer base are the real motivation.

This falls in line with Asda’s belief. According to Brand Republic , Rick Bendel, marketing director at Asda, said: ‘Tesco believes everything is for sale, except when it doesn’t suit it.’ This supports the view that Tesco thinks it will ultimately lose out from the adoption of Adword changes and is trying to manoeuvre to prevent it. However, Asda is not playing ball as it has not ruled out bidding on rival trademarks.

Search engine traffic diversion has become a major issue. The new rules allow companies to bid on rivals’ trademarks for the first time. While advertisers are not allowed to pass themselves off as their competitors, they can now appear quoting their own URL at the top of a search for a rival if they are the top Adwords bidders.

For example, a searcher who wants to do some online grocery shopping puts Tesco in as their search criteria. Asda has top bid on the Adword ‘Tesco’, so its advert appears top of the Google search list. This online shopper just wants groceries and is happy to click on the first link. The searcher looked for Tesco but ended up shopping with Asda. Tesco has lost out despite being the initial front runner.

It is surprising that Tesco would be that concerned about a price war on Adwords. It is the dominant supermarket in the UK and most likely to have the resources to win an Adwords price battle. However, as it operates in a convenience retail sector where customers are likely to opt for the path of least resistance, the possibility that Google’s new Adwords system will divert custom away is a serious concern.

This is also backed up by brand new research suggesting that under the new system search engine users get to their original search destination 8% less often compared to the old system.

I believe that Tesco’s true concern with Google’s new rules is not that it will have to spend more but that its competitors will now profit from piggybacking on its hard fought brand positioning.