There’s not much to see at Etsy.SUCKS. In fact, the page doesn’t even load. The same is true of Dunkin.SUCKS and NewYorkGiants.SUCKS.
Yet those domains could have cost their namesake brands thousands of dollars each when the suffix .SUCKS became available to trademark holders this May. Rather than let the domains fall into the hands of people who think their brand — well, sucks — these companies likely shelled out the dough to snatch them up themselves before they became available to the public on June 21.
And .SUCKS is only the tip of the iceberg. Let’s not even talk about TaylorSwift.PORN.
A rash of new domain names is about to open a new front in the ever-shifting war between brands and Internet trolls, courtesy of the domain-registration industry. Donuts, the self-described world’s largest registry for new generic top-level domain names (gTLDs), is about to roll out a plethora of previously reserved domain names. They include descriptive terms like .AGENCY to emotional ones like .COOL and .GRIPE.
"We talk about our new 'notcom' options as being more meaningful, memorable and available," says Jeffrey Davidoff, CMO of Donuts. He says these new domain names will help consumers understand what a website is about.
Meanwhile, the sunrise period — the time when only brand holders can purchase their brand terms — is set to end for .SUCKS.
But brands say too much of this industry's profit comes from what amounts to a shakedown.
"The business community and the ANA believe that ICANN has still failed to put in the adequate kinds of brand protections we thought were necessary, and they are allowing a lot of questionable top-level domains to go into the marketplace," says Dan Jaffe, head of the Association of National Advertisers' Government Relations Office. "What we continue to be concerned about is when you roll out top-level domains like .SUCKS and .XXX and .GRIPE, this puts a tremendous amount of pressure on companies that may not want to have their brands associated with them."
Since 2011, the ANA has complained that brands feel forced to buy domain names using their brand terms with pejorative gTLDs. The most egregious example was the launch of .SUCKS, wholesaled by the registry Vox Populi. It offered .SUCKS to registrars during the sunrise period, when only trademark holders may purchase their names, for $2,499 each – but registrars are in turn free to charge whatever the market will bear. Recent registrations include Dunkin.SUCKS, Etsy.SUCKS and NewYorkGiants.SUCKS. (Etsy.SUCKS was registered by MarkMonitor, a brand reputation service that, among other things, uses defensive domain registration to block cybersquatting.)
Taylor Swift is among celebrities who have bought their names in pejorative gTLDs in order to block cybersquatters. She purchased TaylorSwift.PORN and TaylorSwift.ADULT, according to Vanity Fair.
Some businesses have taken domain-name protection into their own hands. An international consortium of financial institutions called fTLD operates the registries for .BANK and .INSURANCE. FTLD developed guidelines to ensure only legitimate institutions can register web names with these suffices, and it also requires enhanced security processes.
Finding the upside
But other companies have embraced new gTLDs. Lionsgate is using .MOVIE for the official site for "The Hunger Games." (Lionsgate did not respond to requests for comment.) And Upshot, a full-service advertising and marketing agency based in Chicago, recently relaunched its website as Upshot.AGENCY; it was formerly Upshot.NET.
"We felt like it helped the Upshot brand be a better communicator of what we actually did, and it also showed a progressive point of view in digital marketing," says Dan Swartz, senior vice president of digital, media and analytics for Upshot. Whether Swartz would recommend one of these new-fangled gTLDs to a client depends on many factors, including how established the current domain is. He notes that it could be a great tactic for a brand with many sub-brands, such as Purina, which could register, for example, Purina.DOG and Purina.CAT.
But the value of even neutral-sounding notcoms like .MOVIE and .BIKE is far from guaranteed, says Bill Sweetman, president of Name Ninja, a company that consults on naming and helps brands buy domain names. "Today, to launch a consumer-facing brand on something other than a .COM is risky." Most consumers are not aware of the new top-level domains and assume companies will be found at .COM, or possibly .NET or .ORG. Therefore, according to Sweetman, when a company's website is advertised via traditional media where they can't just click, consumers are unlikely to remember the correct suffix.
A bigger issue, he says, is that just because all these new names are being released, it doesn't mean that companies will be able to get them and use them. Instead, they may go to speculators who will try to resell them to brands at big markups. Sweetman adds, "Sadly, a lot of the operators of these new domains are companies that have decades of experience in speculating in domain names. It's a bit like foxes being put in charge of the chicken coop."