EXPERT ADVICE

The ICANN gTLD: Fantasy vs. Reality

Gary Elliot, chairman of the Association of National Advertisers and vice president of global marketing at Hewlett-Packard, wrote a column in Advertising Age titled “ICANN’s Promises Aren’t Simply Speculation, They’re Outright Fantasy.”His arguments opposing ICANN gTLDs echo those of other advertising association leaders around the world.

While the main powerbrokers of the global advertising sector are mum, their association heads are circulating cybersquatting fears without any solid proof. Here is my analysis and an open challenge to the trade.

Names Worth Fighting For

“By every calculation I’ve seen, including estimates by ICANN’s own experts,” Elliot wrote, “it will cost companies like mine hundreds of thousands of dollars to police their trademarks regardless of whether they decide to participate and buy a branded domain or register on other new generic domains, e.g., .computer. Those costs, when weighted against the purported benefits promised, simply don’t add up.”

Let’s assume one spends US$500,000 plus months in legal formalities to obtain the “dot computer” domain with the intention of going after Hewlett-Packard’s “.computer” or “hp.computer” as some kind of power play in the marketplace. For starters, what’s the real value of “dot computer” anyway? Does this generic word really warrant all this effort?

Here the glaring problem of nomenclature is staring straight at us: Each and every generic term is not worth the gTLD struggle. At what stage would those unfounded claims of billions of dollars in legal and protective expenses come into play?

Regardless, this so-called big threat already exists for simple domain names today. If this term is so hot a property, why are “hpcomputer” or “hewlett-packardcomputer” domain names already readily available today in various combinations for few dollars?

In any case, Hewlett-Packard could use trademark protection measures to protect its brand.

The company may, however, boldly reject the first-come-no-questions-asked domain name policy. Elliot might consider acknowledging that this clause alone is solely responsible for more than 10,000 “Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Programs” with disputing parties incurring thousands of dollars in legal costs. But can he demand that ICANN cancel the entire domain name system and halt the Internet?

The current domain name system, despite its problems, has provided amazing billing opportunities in trademark conflicts and digital branding to ad agencies. The new gTLD approach is a logical and rightful nomenclature evolution toward global cyberbranding expansion.

This subject of corporate nomenclature at this level of global naming complexity is neither taught at the world’s leading universities nor discussed in top MBA courses.

AARM research shows that less than 2 percent of marketing executives have any idea about gTLD and would not be able to articulate the subject in any way without any formal study.

No Cybersquat Appeal

Elliot further adds, “One only needs to look at the ‘success’ of the last string of new TLDs ICANN introduced in the past 10 years ‘.biz, .info, .travel, .jobs, .tel, .name, .coop, .museum, and .mobi’ to see that ICANN’s promises are not just speculation but are, in fact, fantasy.”

What amount of Earth-shattering cybersquatting did these poor performance gTLDs cause? Would it have turned out differently if they were mega successes? What specific name would pose a threat to Hewlett-Packard? Who really wants “HewlettPackard.travel”? Who wants to be the cybersquatter owner of HP.name? What is the real value of this name chase?

The truth is that these poor-performance gTLDs from the start were the product of “extremely distressed and restricted releases.” There was a slow, painful and extremely expensive delivery process, while registrars dreamed of dot-com type runaways.

The name selection understanding between “.pro” over “.law” was never an option, so someone resorted to park all professionals under a single roof of “.pro.” Real-life global naming doesn’t work like this.

Other gTLD name choices were simply accidental; .name or .me were supposed to say “what name” or “what me” to achieve what? The applicants have learned an important lesson: The more open the name, the poorer the results. This new game is more sophisticated, demanding a sharper understanding of global naming.

How You Play the Game

Elliot’s trepidations do not measure up to the limited elasticity concerning the legendary name of his own company, “Hewlett-Packard,” which as a “dot” brand may not carry much sex appeal, because it’s too long and in two parts. The abbreviated version of “dot HP” would not be allowed under ICANN naming rules. Two letters are restricted to country TLDs, like “in” for India and “jp” for Japan.

Why would HP need “.hp” in the first place? It already owns hp.com. Unless “.hp” needs a special “customer-touchpoint” sub-domain system to reach out to thousands of distributors worldwide under a master gTLD plan, it will have to address all these naming technicalities.

With or without new gTLDs, the nagging fear that some smarter name or dot brand will invade Hewlett-Packard’s space is always a possibility. This is a common challenge for every major marketer around the world. Therefore, how you play the nomenclature game and enforce a name identity in the global mindshare is the real challenge.

When all the possibilities of gTLDs are measured up in creating dot brand, generic brands and destination brands, the wide range of opportunities points more toward intricate and colorful naming, while cybersquatting only appears to be a new threat, as it already exists. This, of course, is the reality.

Naseem Javed, founder of ABC Namebank, is a globally recognized authority on corporate nomenclature and related issues of market domination via name identity. He is a lecturer, syndicated columnist, and the author of Naming for Power.

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