Should ICANN Overturn “.brand” Domain Plans? Advertisers Think So.

    September 2, 2011

In June, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) made a historic move to open domain name endings beyond the 20 or so that currently exist to an unlimited number. This means that the .com, .net, .org, and others that consumers are familiar with could turn into .brand in the near future.

Would you prefer to see .brand or .com going forward? What do you think?

Advertisers are outraged by ICANN’s decision and have even contacted the corporation to express their concerns about the changes. The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) is among the groups in opposition because it believes the expanded generic top-level domains (gTLD) could be harmful to brands and consumers.

“The reality is, when we looked at the ICANN report when they adopted this, their benefits that they’re expressing are purely speculative,” said Doug Wood, General Counsel for the ANA.

As he explained, the expansion of domain names has been debated since the 1990’s, even before ICANN existed. The hope was to help consumers find information more easily. ICANN believes that this move will help to solve this problem. Wood, however, told us that this problem no longer exists since search engines and technology have become so advanced.

“Consumers have no problem finding what they’re looking for on the Internet through search engine technology,” he said. “This is more of a solution looking for a problem that doesn’t exist, and the costs that will be incurred by brands and then, ultimately, pushed on to consumers… is going to be far in excess of any justifiable cause.”

The costs he is referring to involve the $185,000 that brands would have to pay to simply apply for a new domain name. Many corporations have multiple brands, which means that they would need to purchase 100s of domains. Although these high costs would likely be transferred to consumers in order to make the investment worthwhile, brands believe that they would have to consider them to prevent cyber squatting and phishing.

Wood told us that it might be different if there were a shortage of domain names, but that is not the case. He said ICANN introduced new domain names including .biz and .travel a few years ago, but that they haven’t been widely adopted. Esther Dyson, who is the former board chair of ICANN, also wrote in a piece on the Australian Broadcasting Network that there was no shortage of domain names.

She opposes the move from ICANN as well and even wrote that it didn’t have any value:

The problem is that expanding the namespace – allowing anyone to register a new TLD such as .apple – doesn’t actually create any new value. The value is in people’s heads – in the meanings of the words and the brand associations – not in the expanded namespace. In fact, the new approach carves up the namespace: the value formerly associated with Apple could now be divided into Apple.computers,,, and so on. If this sounds confusing, that is because it is.

ICANN justifies their action by saying that it will create new opportunities. While Wood agrees that the new domains will do this, he said that the people who would benefit from them are domain sellers, trademark lawyers, and domain consultants.

“The bottom line is simple – the Internet has matured quite well, brands have supported it from its inception, [and] consumers have used it now to increase their choices in the marketplace,” he pointed out. “They don’t need any more TLDs to accomplish that.”

“The only thing that these new TLDs will do, from what we can see, is increase the income and opportunities for consultants,” he added.

When the ANA notified ICANN of its concerns, Wood said ICANN defended its decision based on the grounds that it had debated the topic for several years.

The ANA and other organizations such as the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) are continuing to fight the domain changes. According to Wood, they hope to create enough awareness that ICANN will reconsider its decision.

Do you think ICANN should reverse its expansion of domain names?