Types of Brand Abuse: Avoid Internet Brand Abuse!

Brand abuse is rampant on the Internet. But too many companies ignore the problem. One vendor thinks it's high time companies became aware of the damage brand abuse can create.

Companies lose an average of 22 percent of potential sales due to trademark infringement and counterfeiting, according to the International Trademark Association. The Internet has the potential to do far more damage.

“Your brand name is 10 times more important on the Internet than in the real world,” says Brandy Thomas, chief executive officer and chairman of Cyveillance Inc., whose technology protects brands against devaluation and loss of market share due to misuse. In the real world, you have an actual facility that customers can visit to help formulate an opinion of you, Thomas says. On the Internet, your brand is all you have.

After two years of research, Cyveillance [http://www.cyveillance.com] recently released a top-ten list of the most frequent types of brand abuse on the Internet:

1. Unauthorized use of logos and images.

2. Use of hidden and visible text.

3. Unauthorized use of a company’s name or product in metatags, the code by which Web pages are classified and used by search engines to index pages for their results against key search words. If a competitor uses your company’s name in its metatags, their company may come up when a consumer does a search on your company’s name.

4. Software, music and video piracy.

5. Unauthorized distribution or sale of consumer goods, such as counterfeit goods (e.g., a site that sells fake Rolex watches).

6. Framing. This happens when a company reproduces pages from your site within a frame on their site. The user receives your site’s content without actually visiting your site.

7. Use of a company’s name on a competitor’s site.

8. Use of logos or images in a pornographic context.

9. Domain name abuse and parody sites, such as a site that discredits and makes fun of an established company. May of these sites take a company’s URL and add “sucks” after the name (e.g., www.yourcompanysucks.com)

10. Gripe sites and negative newsgroup postings.

“Most of these abuses didn’t exist two years ago,” says Thomas. Some companies are not even aware of the most common types of brand abuse. In fact, domain name abuse and parody sites, which have garnered significant media attention, did not even break the top five two years ago, notes Thomas.

Thomas offers the following scenario as a common example of brand abuse. “Let’s say I open an online toy store, Brandy’s Toy Store, and use the Toys R Us logo or an extremely similar one. A consumer may mistakenly assume that my site is part of, or affiliated with Toys R Us. If my store doesn’t have the same high standards and practices as Toys R Us, then Toys R Us has been damaged.”

Cyveillance recommends three steps to deal with the danger of brand abuse.

– Understand the scope of the problem. “Don’t guess,” warns Thomas. Companies may greatly underestimate the impact of brand abuse. Cyveillance can work with companies to determine how much of problem brand abuse may present. – Develop policies and be consistent with your approach to brand abuse. Cyveillance can help companies develop policies to deal with brand abuse by sharing the lessons and experiences of its clients. – Be vigilant and decisive in enforcing your policies. When you come up against an offending site, you can have it shut down; you can sell them a license to sell your products or use your logo; or you can encourage customers to boycott that site. The point is to take some action. Don’t just let it go.

Cyveillance scours the Internet for brand abuse using its proprietary technology, which functions like a sophisticated search engine. The Internet offers access to a vast amount of information. Unfiltered, that information is just useless data. Some information, like favorable product reviews, may be useful to your company. Some, like negative product reviews, may hurt, but it helps to know about it. And some information may be downright illegal, like piracy and illegal distribution of goods. Cyveillance can identify how your brand is being used or exploited.

The company offers four different technologies to help companies. CyMarket searches for illegal distribution of your merchandise or counterfeit versions of your merchandise. CyRights searches for unauthorized use of your logo or trademark, inappropriate links or metatag abuse. CyVice searches for your merchandise being associated with pornographic material. CySpeak searches the Internet to see who is saying what (good or bad) about your site or merchandise.

While Cyveillance and similar companies offer solutions to the problem of brand abuse, Thomas says the biggest problem is that people simply don’t take the issue seriously. But be warned. A recent survey by Cyber Dialouge, an online market research firm, found that more than one-third of Internet users say their opinion of one or more brands has changed as a result of using the Internet. There is a solution, says Thomas. Now people just have to sit up and take notice.

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