Why You Don’t See “World Cup” Ads On Google

World Cup Google Search Volume

A Google Trends chart shows the huge spikes in search volume for “World Cup” in the years the tournament is held.

Google is on the cusp of a search volume siege from soccer (aka football) fans as the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ nears. A look at Google Trends data shows we’re on the upswing what Google can expect when the tournament starts on June 12, based on the volumes the last two times the World Cup was held, in 2006 and 2010. What may surprise you is the search results from all this “World Cup” interest will be largely free of ads on Google.com.

FIFA, the organization that puts on the World Cup every four years, has trademark or intellectual property protection on terms including “World Cup”, “FIFA”, “COPA 2014″ and even “Brazil 2014″. Search for “Brazil 2014″, and you won’t see ads from companies selling tickets, travel packages, or even FIFA-authorized shirts. Instead you’ll see what Google calls a OneBox, which at this point offers an at-a-glance view of upcoming matches, a rundown of the team groups, a game bracket, and a link to FIFA.com

Google World Cup Search Results

Google has been stung several times over the use of trademarks in AdWords ads. Google’s current policy on using third-party trademarks in AdWords campaigns allows advertisers to bid on others’ trademarked keywords, but does not permit those terms to be used in ad text. Increasingly, though, Google has blocked ads from appearing at all on searches for third-party trademarked terms. This policy is no more evident than in search results for big events such as the World Cup, Olympics, Super Bowl, NBA Playoffs and Stanley Cup.

These organizations are all vigilant in protecting their trademarks, and Google often appears to go above and beyond in keeping ads off a wider array of search results than seems necessary. For example, searches for “world cup results” and “when does the world cup start” have no ads at this time.

Official sponsors are often granted exemptions by the organizations, much like brands granting permission to resellers to use their trademarks in AdWords ads. Coca-Cola is a World Cup sponsor and its ad was spotted on searches for “world cup games”.

World Cup sponsors Coca-Cola adwords

There are loopholes for advertisers, however. Searches that demonstrate shopping intent almost always show ads. Resellers can hock their FIFA authorized wares on search terms like “World Cup gear”.

Google SERP World Cup Gear

And, while you won’t see ads on “Brazil 2014″, users trying to find out where the games are being played will see ads on a search for  “World Cup where in Brazil”. This odd assortment showed up on this search yesterday. (Kohls’ ad with the headline “World Cup Brazil Host Cities” is particularly strange.)

Google SERP world cup where in brazil ads

You may have spotted FIFA’s own ads on both of these search results. FIFA could advertise on its own trademarked terms, but so far is choosing to let the OneBox dominate those results. When the World Cup gets underway, we may see FIFA expand its ad campaign and we’ll likely see more official sponsors ratchet up their advertising. Other advertisers looking to get in on the World Cup action, however, will have to get creative with their keyword lists in order to beat out the OneBox and get around Google’s generous trademark protections.