The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) is a talented group of individuals that are good at their job. So good that a campaign they’re running could be causing marketers in the U.S. to fall behind their peers in other countries when it comes to an important component of any comprehensive online marketing strategy – domain names.
As I’ve written about before, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which governs the global domain name system, has started to introduce hundreds of new generic top-level domains (gTLD) that are joining traditional extensions such as .com, .net and .org. These include extensions that are brand specific such as .Nike or .AOL, those that are geographically rooted such as .NYC and .London, those that are written in non-Latin scripts such as Arabic or Chinese, and those that are truly generic, such as .music, .home or .club.
The ANA and other groups have been opposed to the introduction of these new extensions, citing issues such as the confusion they could cause, as well as the cost and difficulty of protecting a brand across so many new extensions. These are valid points for debate, but a healthy debate won’t change the fact that new domain extensions are here and are starting to be used. More than 300 extensions are already live and we could see up to a thousand introduced before the end of the year. These new extensions have accounted for more than 1.3 million domain registrations so far, and we're even starting to see early usage by celebrities such as rapper 50 Cent using InDa.Club, and pop icon Justin Bieber using Joker.Tattoo.
However, despite early successes and growing awareness, marketing and advertising professionals in the U.S. are overwhelmingly apprehensive about new domain extensions. This isn't too surprising when you consider campaigns run by organizations like Verisign and the ANA -- which obviously knows what its doing when it comes to effective marketing. But what is surprising is the vastly different opinion that marketers in the U.S. hold when compared to their peers in other countries.
According to a recent survey by Sedo, the world's largest domain marketplace, 75 percent of people in the U.S. who hold marketing, advertising or PR positions believe that new extensions will make the Internet more confusing. That’s a much more negative outlook than any other group, including marketers in other countries and all respondents globally. For example, only 50 percent of total U.S. respondents and 43 percent of all respondents globally thought new domain extensions would make the Internet more confusing. Among marketers in other countries, only 53 percent in Germany, 46 percent in the U.K. and 17 percent in China held that belief.
Such a wide chasm between the beliefs of marketers in the U.S. versus other countries is a strong indication that the ANA’s campaign is working, but possibly to the detriment of the very people the organization represents.
It’s impossible to turn back the clock and erase new domains from the Internet, so it’s time to shift gears. The healthy debate should continue as the structure and management of new extensions can still be improved, but we should also be helping people understand the opportunities new domains can provide and informing them about how to protect a brand in this new normal.
While difficulty protecting a brand has been one of the marketing community’s biggest concerns over new domains, very few marketers are aware of the safeguards that ICANN has already put in place. According to the survey, only 21 percent of marketers in the U.S. are aware of the Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH), an ICANN-mandated service that’s run by IBM and Deloitte to help brands protect their marks across all domain extensions.
If more effort is put into educating people about new domains rather than simply toiling against them, marketers and businesses could realize that mechanisms such as the TMCH are in place to address some of their concerns. On the other hand, if we continue on a path of straight opposition, it’s likely that marketers in the U.S. will remain unopen to, and unknowledgeable about new domains while the rest of the world moves forward. As the Internet helps make the world smaller and smaller, and causes global commerce to grow more quickly than it ever has before, it’d be a shame for that to happen.