The $2,499 Rabbit Hole


As you may have heard, more than 1,300 new generic top-level domains have been approved for use by ICANN, the governing body for such decisions. (gTLDs are the .com, .net, .org part of our web vernacular).

Problem is, many of the new gTLDS are anything but “generic.” Most conspicuous would be .FAIL, .SUCKS and .PORN. The kneejerk reaction to this for most brands would be to secure these gTLDs for their valuable brand name, immediately. No one wants to see on the Internet, so better you own it than an adversary.

But there’s a problem with that logic. No one wins a race where there is no end. Suppose you DO secure it. And then someone else purchases You bought that too? How about Did you get that as well?

Hence the race with no ending. It’s a rabbit hole in a field of rabbit holes, all of which are virtually bottomless. You want proof? .HORSE is available. Should Walmart have thought to buy it to avoid this? And, more importantly, does that (arguably entertaining) website really hurt Walmart’s bottom line? Doubtful.

To make matters more infuriating for brands, some of the companies that won ICANN’s auction to “own” these gTLDs are charging what many consider to be extortionist rates during a “sunrise” registration period. A typical gTLD for .com costs around $10, give or take. During the “sunrise” period, gTLDs come recommended at $2,499. A price only brands and celebrities could afford (or couldn’t afford not to, some might argue).

Vox Populi, the company who owns the .sucks gTLD, suggests that the domain is intended for brands to use as destinations for their critics to engage with the brand—one imagines in the spirit of constructive criticism and dialogue. Or possibly self-actualization borne after a good public flogging.

Ignoring that self-serving and preposterous suggestion, it’s almost as if someone has not heard of social media, THE venue for criticism—constructive and otherwise—to flourish. If a brand wants to know what the public thinks of them, they should go look. Start by typing the letter “f” in your Chrome browser. There’s a lot more to crisis/issues readiness than gTLD management. It’s about training, preparation, governance, listening, awareness and good behavior.

Bottom line: If an organization or an individual wants to use the Internet to disparage your brand, they can and they will in a hundred different places. Evidence A, B & C:  Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. What can an adversary do on that they can’t do 10X more effectively using social media—that powerful conduit of networks so effective at spreading ill will? To fret over .sucks more than over bad tweets and poor Google results is akin to “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.”  Plus, in this case, those deck chairs happen to cost $2,499 each, MSRP.

Certainly, it’s up to each brand to make the decision. There may even be cases where politically or internally it’s just easier to buy the more obvious potential threats, to quell the fears of those within your corporate walls. But that “solution” is no panacea—it’s a charade of defense. And brands should only do this knowing full well the depth of the rabbit hole into which they just jumped. If 2,499 resources are available, it might be more prudent using them to cultivate a crisis preparedness environment and positive brand reputation in the field above said rabbit hole.

David has 19 years of Public Relations experience, 17 at Weber Shandwick in Minneapolis, where he leads the Creative Experience team. This team ensures all our campaigns are led by strategic planning and creative direction. David also created and leads firebell, Weber Shandwick’s global crisis training program, and is a member of the North American digital leadership team for the agency.