The ability to serve your advert when a user searches for a competitor brand term is a contentious subject. Some clients are enamoured with the concept and will spend thousands of Rands a month to ensure that their advert is served on every single search term related to their competitors, almost to the point of maniacal obsession.

Others feel that the practice is unethical, or illegal (it’s not illegal) and are vehemently opposed to the practice. The important question though, is do competitor campaigns actually work?

The short answer is yes. Competitor campaigns do convert, but there are a few caveats which need to be considered before running a competitor campaign.

Competitor Campaigns Cost More

With few exceptions, competitor campaigns lack the relevance required to achieve high quality scores. You cannot include trademarked competitor brand terms in your ad text and, in most applications, it doesn’t make sense to include them on your website either.

As such, Google Ads account managers can only bid on brand terms, which means that you’re going to pay a premium rate to get your advert to appear in competitor campaigns. To compound the issue, the competitor you’re targeting will easily achieve high relevancy and will be able to defend their brand terms cost-effectively.

Competitor Campaigns Can Confuse The User

By their very nature, competitor campaigns are confusing. Users search for particular products or companies and instead finding exactly what they’re looking for, they’re served adverts that present them with alternatives.

This wasn’t a major issue as recently as last year. Organic search results appeared just below adverts and typically presented users with exactly what they were looking for. With the multitude of changes to the way SERPs are displayed that rolled out in 2016, this is no longer the case.

It is now common to see first position organic results presented well below the fold of SERPs. This has made it more likely than ever that a user will click on an advert or a maps listing before they encounter an organic result.

Is Your Company Prepared For A Competitor Campaign?

Another aspect to consider is whether or not your sales team is able to deal with a competitor campaign. Aligning your team’s sales techniques to the marketing strategy being employed is critical to the success of any campaign, and even more so with a competitor campaign.

In the past we’ve encountered situations in which key decision makers were passionate about running competitor campaigns, but failed to communicate the strategy to the sales team.

In one particular example, we ran a successful competitor campaign which resulted in a fantastic conversion rate, with the majority of the conversions being received over the phone. After 3 months we received a complaint from the key decision maker – they weren’t receiving any leads, which perplexed us. Our data said otherwise.

Align Your Marketing & Sales Strategy

Only after implementing call recording, using our call tracking solution, were we able to identify the issue.

In spite of crystal clear ad text, the calls generated by the competitor campaign often resulted in the user asking for the competitor they had originally searched for. Instead of using this as opportunity to provide the caller with an alternative, the sales team were politely letting the user know that they had dialled the wrong number.

To add insult to injury, they were also incredibly helpful. After the initial wrong number calls they compiled a list of all of the competitors we were targeting and then referred their leads to their competitors. Needless to say, we counted this as a marketing disaster.

The client spent a significant amount of money to drive business for their competitors. This situation could have been avoided by aligning the sales strategy to the marketing strategy being employed.

Propriety Eponyms & Competitor Campaigns

The are cases where competitive campaigns make more sense and yield better results than traditional intent based keyword campaigns. Propriety eponyms and new products are an excellent case in point.

A propriety eponym is a brand name or trademark that has entered general use to refer to a generic class of products. Examples include calling all vacuum cleaners Hoovers or calling all kettle braais Weber braais.

In cases such as these, the user does not always search for the generic product class, even if they’re searching a cheaper alternative to the competitor. They use the proprietary eponym to search for the generic product class.

In the redacted example provided, we’re looking at a company that has a product for which we are able to make use of propriety eponyms. You’ll notice that the competitor campaign not only generates more leads, in spite of its poor ad position, at 19% of the cost of the intent based keywords campaign, but that it also receives more impressions.

Are Competitor Campaigns Worth It?

In this particular example, bidding on intent based keywords proved to be a bad idea. Users do not think of the product class when they’re searching for the product. Instead, they’re searching for the propriety eponym – a dominant competitor product.

Are Competitor Campaigns Worth It?

Yes. Competitor campaigns are worth it, but that’s not a one size fits all answer. Your company needs to be aware of your competitor strategy and it needs to understand how to hard sell a competitor lead. It’s also important to monitor your CPA and understand your closing rate for leads generated using competitor strategies. A competitor campaign should never become a vanity project driven by ego. Outranking your competitors and appearing for competitor search terms needs to make sound business sense. If the costs of running a competitor campaign exceeds the profit generated by campaign, you shouldn’t be running the campaign.