Why would the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), representing 400 member organizations and their 10,000 brands that spend $250 billion annually, be so wrong about ICANN's generic top-level domain (gTLD) program? They're complaining as if new gTLDs are being sold overnight in dark alleys with a no questions asked policy in exchange of a large suitcase filled with newly printed currency. This is definitely not the case, so what did they miss?
ICANN has painstakingly issued the most stringent rules to acquire an ownership of any new gTLD application, akin to applying to host the Olympics. Even the most seasoned squatters, high on a $10 domain-name shuffling frenzy, would beg for mercy under the weight of cost and extreme due diligence.
What's missing in this heated debate are senior advertising and marketing executives articulating their side. Research by AARM shows that barely 2% of senior marketing executives have some understanding of gTLD while the remainder have no clue. The gTLD topic requires a minimum of 40 hours of study before a marketing executive can give any serious comment on the topic — anything less would be off the cuff. It is almost as difficult as explaining a domain name two decades ago. Half-knowledge is the worst kind of knowledge.
It has already been established that gTLD isn't for everyone and only well-established and qualified organizations can play this game. The 250-page application is complicated enough to discourage any fly-by-night concept. The so-called super expensive cost of a single gTLD application is $180,000 and can easily climb to half a million dollars — certainly huge compared to the old $10 domain space.
But it is miniscule to what big brands and their big advertising routinely spend on any given afternoon. ANA reinforces this claim by pointing that its 400 members alone already spend $250 billion annually in advertising.
Cyber-squatting Friend or Foe?
One of ANA's objections comes from the alleged onset of cyber squatting. In reality, gTLD is a squatter killer. Take an example from a dot branding case: what would Canon, an applicant of gTLD, achieve by putting ".canon" on an open auction? What would the so called squatter do with "ibm.canon" or "microsoft.canon"? What purpose would it serve? The same applies for almost all major global names applying for dot-branded identities. ICANN will not permit anyone to take a well-protected trademark as there are too many screening procedures in place.
What about the dot generic brands? What will really happen to an open sale of ".rice"? Well, where is the money angle in squatting on "ibm.rice" or "microsoft.rice"? The myth that big trademark owners will have to fork over millions to avoid cyber squatting is wrong.
Squatting is the product of an easy and almost free model of the $10 domain name that is still readily available today. This type of thinking does not translate well in the new gTLD arena, as the buy-in for the game is highly selective.
Major names brands will have their dot brands as closed dot registries and the generic options will be successful in narrow and well defined and controlled distribution categories. Sure there will always be some unusual situations and for that well protected names will be well protected — that's why protection layers were created for them in the first place.
War of Words
The real unspoken problem with the 10,000 brands from ANA members lies in the fact that most of their name brands may not be able to pass the stringent rules of ICANN's evaluation. Basically when a successfully established regional name is stretched over multiple global areas, it starts showing its dis-functionalities — among other things the alpha-structure of the name falls part on suitability, marketability and usability.
The ICANN gTLD platform is more aligned to "one Internet, one world" thinking, and when applying the rules of global corporate nomenclature of "one name, one owner," often centuries old and successful regional name brands appear dysfunctional.
These names can become monstrous problems. On that note, take the dictionary term "Monster"; how would their owners prepare to pass the global test as a standalone brand?
Let's assume that nobody objects to the name Monster, rendering the lone applicant very lucky. You can equally imagine how hard this issue will be debated in boardrooms of all those monster-dependent name identities, ranging from the job listing service to the cable-maker, the cookies, the drink, the games, the trucks, the movies, the cartoons, the gyms and so forth.
This is a very small example. The implications multiply exponentially among names like United, National, First, Star, or Premier. The largest majority of global name brands and business names all over the world fall in this dictionary, descriptive, geographic or surname based problematic category. The big question should be are they just going to stay stuck where they are or do something about it, finally?
Last century's branding could live with this waste of name identity dilution, but not this new age of hyper dilution where name visibility is a strategic weapon, and market domination via name identity is the real test. AZNA is conducting a series of Executive Intelligence Briefings on this topic.
Of all the global trademark filings on behalf of organizations, less than 1% has achieved any true global umbrella of trademark protection and to provide them appropriate instruments to deal with any infringement issues. The biggest problem is that the majority of trademarks filed in their country of origin that eventually expand to neighboring countries are either unfit or unworthy of global protection.
Their entrapment into local thinking anchors them geographically, rendering global protection unattainable and unsuitable for these names. They are suspended in a state where they can neither enforce their rights nor safeguard their own turf.
Although global trademark wars periodically erupt in a frenzy to buy out all other identical diluted competitive "words," but most fizzle out, as the victor may only end up with a diluted name identity to begin with. Check out the trademark wars over Orange, Easy, Advantage, Entrepreneur or Monster — there are thousands others.
ABC Namebank's research on Global Dilution Trends points to a list of 100 most commonly used names based on geography, dictionary, descriptive or surnames by some 100 million businesses around the world. A simple review of a few trade directories will provide the solid proof. The gTLD provides an excellent window for management to encourage name evaluation as an opportunity to mount their brand on a thoroughbred horse and maneuver through the jackasses' names.
One Internet, One World
For trademark registrability issues, there are tens of thousands of well trained and qualified trademark attorneys to render a "professional letter of global registrability opinion." For another professional opinion letter on suitability, marketability and usability issues brand owners will have to go for deeper research and secure impartial analysis. As the legal profession does not offer creative services and tackle marketability, suitability and usability both evaluations and their simultaneous interactions are critical.
Worldwide, most trademark professional are uncomfortable with this gTLD program and rather take an aggressive approach to reevaluate naming of all currently filed and pending trademark portfolios, they are taking a defensive posture. Perhaps they may fear the implosion of millions of trademarks.
They also face the sudden realization that through traditional global trademark bureaucracy over newly hyper-accelerated digital controls to establish usage and acquire "secondary meaning," the new gTLD brands could slowly shift the course of managing trademarks.
The trademark profession basically inherited this global name dilution fiasco and unlike branding agencies do not have the mandate to offer creative naming services but to simply deal with compliance and enlarge the layers of protection.
Despite all this there are new complexities on the trademark scene fueled by cyber jurisdictional issues and multi-lingualization and there are brilliant trademark agents out there to dwell in this space. These issues also require solid debate and fresh insight and requires traditional trademark establishment to openly explore new frontiers and adopt more efficient procedures.
The post-meltdown world is moving much faster to global outreach programs as current domestic models are just not large or fit enough. Ecommerce is suddenly maturing faster than anticipated. ICANN brings in a higher-level experience on the Internet with the multi-lingualization of domain names and the new gTLD revolution.
The eventual goal of any serious commercial effort is to offer extreme value marketable with appropriate mark-ups and to achieve maximum image expansion to dominate the market. Last century the extreme image was delivered by the print media; this century via digital compression and global cyber-branding a space, where without a globally workable name, the organization will simply bleed.
As the world moves towards one Internet and one world, it has also clearly identified "one name, one owner" the winner in an age where market domination via name identity is most desired.
By Naseem Javed, Expert: Global Naming Complexities, Corporate Nomenclature, Image & Branding. He is the founder of ABC Namebank, author of 'Domination: The GTLD Name Game', syndicated columnist, keynote speaker and specialist on global naming complexities.
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