Court grants declarations that Moola’s Google Ads agreements breached Commerce Act
Published20 Dec 2021
The High Court has granted the declarations sought by the Commerce Commission that Moola.co.nz Limited (Moola) engaged in cartel conduct relating to online advertising.
The cartel conduct involved Moola reaching agreements with other consumer credit or loan providers to not bid on each other’s brand names on Google Ads and to also ‘negatively match’ certain keywords so that their advertisements would not show when those keywords were used. Google Ads enable a company to have its advertisement displayed alongside the search results of a Google search.
Commission Chair Anna Rawlings says this conduct meant that consumers searching for a consumer credit provider on Google may not see ads for other loan providers, limiting their access to information about alternative companies and services. This is likely to have reduced the ability of consumers to make informed choices when selecting a loan provider.
“Competitive keyword advertising is important for businesses and consumers alike. It allows businesses to have their online ads shown to potential customers at a time when they are actively searching for the relevant products and services, and consumers benefit from obtaining information on competing products and services in response to searches for a particular brand,” says Ms Rawlings.
“By restricting competitive keyword advertising, these agreements may have resulted in consumers paying higher prices and acquiring consumer finance services on unfavourable or less suitable terms. The likelihood of harm would have been higher for vulnerable consumers with less experience and knowledge about consumer finance companies.”
The Commission filed proceedings against Moola in July 2021 seeking declarations that entering into and giving effect to the agreements breached the cartel provisions of the Commerce Act 1986.
Moola co-operated with the Commission’s investigation, accepted that it contravened the Act, and agreed to declarations being made by the Court.
Moola Moola is a consumer finance company providing high-cost short term loans up to $5,000. It operates through its websites moola.co.nz and needcashtoday.co.nz.
Google Ads Search results on Google include both organic search results and paid advertising results through Google Ads.
Google Ads is an online advertising platform offered through the Google search platform. Companies can pay to display their products and services as an advertisement in response to a search for a particular word or phrase. The display ranking of an advertisement and the amount paid by the advertiser to Google Ads is determined by a live second-price auction or spot market.
Negatively matching keywords prevents certain ads from being triggered by a certain word or phrase, meaning certain ads will not display to anyone who is searching for that word or phrase.