“These Aren’t the Androids you’re Looking For” – Samsung’s Cheeky Competitor Bidding goes Viral

Daryl Burrows | April 29th 2015

In many circles it’s PPC’s dark art – marginalised, maligned and frowned upon from on high by Google itself. It’s called competitor bidding, and is practised by an underhand club where a campaign within your account is your dark horse, picking up extra conversions where you least expect them (or an immoral and unforgivable offence that damages your account’s performance, depending on who you ask).

Just where should you stand as a PPC manager? On the moral side of the fence, or the immoral? The topic emerged again in the industry after some news outlets (Independent, CNET.com and the Mirror) began reporting a couple of ads in rotation from Samsung which facetiously ‘corrected’ users’ search queries for ‘iphone 6s’.



The above SERPs are screenshots from search queries I made around 9 a.m. today. After around 10 minutes of informing the unaware office, and most of my social media accounts, it began to get picked up further and the posts themselves began to gain traction. However, shortly thereafter, the ad seems to have been paused by Samsung, probably because the job was done in regard to exposure and PR – social media was doing all the work for free.

What’s interesting is that Apple itself didn’t have a PPC ad to accompany what is considered a branded product search query. So who’s in the wrong? Is Apple naïve for leaving the door ajar for Samsung to nip in, or is Samsung being immoral, attempting to capitalise on its key rival’s product searches?

Where I Stand …

For the record, I stand on the side of the ‘immoral’ on this issue (as out of character as that may seem). PPC is dog-eat-dog and there’s no love lost between rival brands in an industry where performance is everything. Google does penalise competitor bidding heavily, and this can be identified by being awarded a paltry Quality Score, usually in the region 1/10 in accordance with being branded ‘below average’ in all verticals of the QS measurement algorithm that Google discloses.

If however you are savvy like Samsung, you can indeed pick up some decent results on the back of bidding on competitors. You obviously already know your CTR is going to be verging on shocking since your ad won’t match the user’s initial search query – but if you have compelling copy, or even a witty CTA or even a better offer, you may be able to convert those users.

Google does penalise and disapprove ads that have direct keyword insertion of another brand or competitor, so for instance, if you were Nike, you couldn’t include the Adidas trademark in the ad copy in an attempt to mop up searches for that brand. You can however get creative. I mentioned I find myself on the immoral side of competitor bidding, and I like to see how far I can push the boundaries – we are, after all, in the creative industry of marketing.

My Brush with the Dark Side

Before PushON swept me off my feet, I once managed the PPC account of a large gambling company, and ran an extensive competitor campaign which performed particularly well on occasion. However, knowing that DKI (Dynamic Keyword Insertion) of a competitor brand name in my ads would improve QS and ultimately reduce the cost-per-click, and that the use of witty and cheeky copy (including a competitor’s brand name) could amuse users enough to tempt them to switch allegiances, I completely ran with it. My ad copy used snippets of competitors’ names such as ‘Climb the Betting Hill’ or ‘Paddy Loves Our £25 Free Bet; So Will You!’

These ads then flew under Google’s radar, and seemingly the industry. I did see an upswing in my competitor campaign performance, but it wasn’t to last. In fact it caused an all-out industry backlash, and we began to see competitors do to us what we were doing to them. Legal action threats and very formal complaint letters were bandied back and forth between companies and eventually a cease fire was reached. Yeah, it got messy. But we won a bit of business in the process.

And there still exists copy which implores the user ‘To Make the Switch’ on a number of competitors’ ads.

In PPC it’s an interesting debate, and it will always continue to divide opinion. However, if you get a pithy and cheeky ad picked up and circulated by news outlets, as Samsung has, the PR and exposure is worth untold numbers of clicks – and the odd stiff letter.