In the wake of "google pontiac," I was checking Google and Yahoo! during the Super Bowl to see if anyone was trying to piggyback on major brand investments. Sure enough, terms like "whopperettes," "brown bubbly," "dove," and "godaddy" were purchased by companies offering services totally unrelated to the keywords. It looks like the 3 companies that I noticed – zooba, vcatravel, and thegoodsamaritanlli have since pulled their buys, but others have jumped in.
I asked Josh Stylman of Reprise Media about guerilla keyword buying and he had some interesting things to say, in particular that guerilla keywords can be effective in context, as SEM is "totally intent driven and non-interruptive." He also pointed out that GM did this the right way by purchasing "kermit" to pull a Mazda on Ford.
A couple of related branding+search pieces have been published recently, including one from iMedia. I agree with the logic technically, but it appears that vendors are trying to find new ways to position search to drive incremental sales.
I see the issue really heating up when the lawsuits start flying. When someone steps over the line with trademark/copyright violation, expect a microscope on the anatomy of search and a flurry of activity in the affiliate marketing space. With such high profile guerilla tactics, no doubt GM and Ford have already been seeking counsel on the matter (btw mazda doesn’t appear to be buying "pontiac" anymore).