PPC Keyword Hijacking and Branding: BA Christmas Strike Case Study

December 16, 2009

With the announcement of the British Airways Christmas strike, it was only a matter of time before PPC ads of competitors would show up for “ba strike” related searches with targeted messaging in an effort to pick-up business from possibly stranded passenger. But there are a couple of surprises in the search results from non-travel brands, that I’m doubtful are supporting the wished for brand image.

As expected, for the search term ‘ba strike’ you could by Tuesday morning in the UK see PPC ads from Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines, easyJet, and other airline companies and travel providers. Also present among the sponsored ads were American Express touting their travel insurance which cover strikes. So far nothing very surprising, and all quite useful for anyone hoping to travel during the holidays or worried about loosing their money due to the strike.

Two ads that however stand out in the sponsored listings for the search query “ba strike” are from AnnSummers.com and ThePerfumeShop.com.

ThePerfumeShop BA Strike PPC

Ann Summers BA Strike PPC

While someone merely curious but not affected by the strike could possibly find the adverts amusing and create a positive brand association (and perhaps even conversions), anyone actually affected by the strike will likely not be in a very good mood and receptive of the messaging, and more likely create a negative brand association if they find these ads irrelevant and overly opportunistic. Is it worth the risk? Considering that about a million people are likely to be affected by the strike, it suggests a very risky gamble. But let’s take a closer look at each case before ruling anyone out.

Ann Summers is already a brand with a cheeky and irreverent image (due to the nature of its products), and its previous PPC keyword hijacks shows that these are clearly a well-considered part of Ann Summers strategy in-line with its brand image. However, the BA Christmas strike is in particular a highly emotional and stressful event for anyone involved – passengers and employes alike –  which is why in this instance deem the risk of damaging the brand greater than the possible added value.

For the Perfume Shop I’m even less confident it’s doing much good for its brand image and long-term objectives. The unfortunate wording of the advert potentially creates a double-whammy to alienate its audience – anyone serious about the strike and what it stands for may be offended by the negative wording that “strikes stink”, while panicked would-be travelers are being touted to buy cheap perfume instead of travelling to see friends and families over Christmas. This is a quite contrived substitute, that also lacks the comicality of the Ann Summers advert. It’s worth noting that the timing of the PPC advert coincides with the launch of the Perfume Shop’s £1.5 million six day TV campaign. This highlights the risk of too quickly jumping on the opportunistic keyword hijacking bandwagon, since any possible negative brand associations from paid search could diminish the ROI of the TV campaign.

My key take-aways from this and previous keyword hijacks are that it’s key to be:

  • Sensitive
  • Relevant
  • on brand

While I don’t have any further insights on either company’s branding strategy, or sales and impact on brand equity generated by these PPC campaigns, I can only conclude that opportunistic events carry great risks. This is especially true since the decision to run any tactical campaigns must be made extremely quickly in order to maximise the potential new traffic and impact; these are hurriedly made decisions that will impact brand equity that have been built-up over years.

PS: No, I’m not a stranded BA passenger

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Jason Ball December 16, 2009 at 10:54 am

I agree with you on the Perfume Shop example.

Personally, I think if they’re going to go for the hijack they would be better off focusing on the opportunity to buy perfume at airport prices. At least this passes the relevancy test: Now you don’t have to go through duty-free to get a bargain. It could also begin to offer a platform for them to build a distinctive brand upon. It is likely to still fail the sensitivity test with stranded travellers though.

Magnus Nilsson December 20, 2009 at 5:11 pm

Jason. Great comment and idea of platform, could possibly work very well to run outside of these events (so to “hijack” brand terms during normal circumstances) thus avoid the sensitivity issue.

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