Travel sellers react to Disney’s keyword crackdown

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With a new policy sent to travel agents last week, the Walt Disney Co. became the latest enterprise to crack down on how online travel retailers use its trademarks.

Commenting on the move, Sue Pisaturo of longtime Disney specialist Small World Vacations, said, “The Internet is kind of like the Wild West. Where for the first 20 years of this there were no rules, it’s time to makes rules [now] as to how their name is marketed.”

Any travel retailer that works with Disney is likely already well-versed in the company’s extensive marketing guidelines, a multi-page document on DisneyCopyright.com that includes everything from how official Disney photos should be cropped when used in marketing materials to how logos should be placed (hint: never askew).

But this is the first time Disney is going after the practice of buying trademark-related keyword search terms, a marketing strategy whereby sellers of Disney product (and even some companies that don’t sell Disney but want to capitalize on the company’s popularity) buy keywords related to its name and trademarks to improve their search engine results.

In a release announcing the new policy, the company said, “With online marketing practices continuing to evolve, we feel the time is right to take this necessary step to protect the Disney brand.”

Pisaturo, a top-grossing Disney agent who has been selling its products for decades, does not buy search keywords to build her business. And while from a competitive point of view and for the sake of maintaining the integrity of the Disney brand, she welcomes the new policy, Pisaturo also said she sympathizes with Disney travel sellers who are newer entrants into the market and are going to have a hard time competing with the pack without buying search keywords.

“Now that there are so many Disney-only agencies, how do you get noticed?” she wondered. “I don’t look in judgment at the people who did do those things. They had to find their piece of the pie some way, somehow.”

And until now, the company had looked the other way.

Cara Goldsbury, founder of Glass Slipper Concierge, which bids on and buys Disney keywords in paid search, said she is disappointed with the new policy.

“I have built a travel agency around Disney destinations because I love Disney and have enormous passion for the product,” Goldsbury wrote in an email. “As a business that has built a brand in service of promoting and selling Disney, I do find the new policy discouraging. It will certainly have an impact on my ability to grow business for Disney, which is enormously frustrating.”

While it is was not immediately clear what sparked Disney’s decision to issue the new policy now, Pete Werner, owner of Dreams Unlimited Travel, a Disney specialist that does not buy keyword search terms related to Disney, said he saw it coming.

“They have definitely been trying to tighten up what’s been going on in the industry as far as their brand names are concerned,” Werner said. “The bottom line is Disney is losing market share with people doing it. And some agencies are being foolish; they’re being flagrant in how they’re doing it. I’ll see agencies using the Disney word in URLs, and say to myself, ‘How the hell are they getting away with this?’”

Internet searches for Disney in conjunction with any number of travel-related or cost-related terms — “Disney vacation,” “Disney package,” “Disney discount” — return a large number of companies, big and small, that buy keyword search terms. They range from lesser-known travel agencies to giant suppliers such as Expedia, JetBlue and TripAdvisor.

“For more than nine decades, the name Disney has represented the very best in family entertainment,” the company wrote in announcing the new policy. “Today, consumers continue to seek out and trust the Disney brand as they plan magical vacations to our destinations around the world.”

For that reason, Disney said, it was implementing the policy “to protect and maintain the integrity of our brand.”

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