ANA ramps up ICANN domain name protest

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As the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' plan to launch a new program of generic top-level domains was scheduled to begin accepting applications on Jan. 12, the Association of National Advertisers' drumbeat against the plan continued. On Jan. 9, the ANA released a plan that would permit the application process to begin but would allow organizations and companies to have the opportunity to place their brands—without cost—on a temporary “do not sell list.” But even this gesture, which the ANA described as “constructive,” was not without an edge. “Destructive and costly litigation can hopefully be avoided if ICANN accepts this proposal and if all parties work together in good faith during the first application period to develop practical and reliable solutions to the challenges that have been repeatedly raised,” said ANA President-CEO Bob Liodice, in a statement. ICANN's gTLD program will give marketers the option of reserving so-called brand gTLD's, such as .cocacola or .cisco, or gTLD's such as .laptop or .insurance. It's an option the ANA and other marketing groups, which have banded together to create the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Name Oversight, apparently do not want—at least not in the form currently proposed. And most marketers definitely don't want to pay $185,000 to go through the application process for a gTLD. “[CMOs] see the pricing as predatory,” said Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council, which has not taken a position on the new gTLDs but has been urging its members to plan for the program's launch. In December, the ANA issued a press release applauding the Federal Trade Commission's December letter to ICANN Chairman Stephen Crocker and CEO Rod Beckstrom lambasting the gTLD program. “A rapid, exponential expansion of gTLDs has the potential to magnify both the abuse of the domain name system and the corresponding challenges we encounter in tracking down Internet fraudsters,” read one complaint in the FTC letter. In December, the ANA also looked to enlist other parts of the U.S. government as the organization's exec VP-government relations, Dan Jaffe, testified in hearings before U.S. Senate and House committees. Jaffe's testimony focused on the application expense, the difficulties involved in trademark protection and the lack of “consensus” supporting the launch of the program. In testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, ICANN's Kurt Pritz, senior VP-stakeholder relations, focused on how the gTLD program had been subjected to more than 45 comment periods since 2005. “This program did not evolve in a vacuum,” Pritz said. “Everybody gets a chance to talk, but only a few people get listened to,” Jaffe said, adding: “We should use this money for job creation. There are a lot better investments we could be making.” Esther Dyson, who served as chairwoman of ICANN between 1998 and 2000, also testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation. She views the new gTLD program as unnecessary. “If it ain't broke, don't fix it,” she said at the conclusion of her remarks. But unfortunately for the ANA, neither the Senate nor any other government entity has jurisidiction over ICANN, an independent body. The program appears poised to move forward as ICANN's leaders are touring the world, most recently with stops in Russia and China, to take last-minute questions about the new gTLDs. It may be time for marketers to stop protesting and start planning. “The fact is that this program is happening, and marketing leaders need to drive their companies to a decision,” said Jeff Ernst, principal analyst at Forrester Research. In his recently released report, “It's Decision Time for gTLDs,” Ernst dismissed fears of cybersquatting. “Cybersquatters with no trademark rights would be absolutely foolish to apply for your brand name, because the probability of being awarded a gTLD is next to zero,” he wrote. Some marketers have announced plans to pursue new gTLDs. For instance, Hitachi and Canon Inc. have said they would apply for .hitachi and .canon, respectively, although they have revealed little else about their plans. “A lot of marketers are looking at this as a strategic decision and saying little about it publicly,” said Liz Miller, the CMO Council's VP-marketing programs and operations. Many observers believe marketers are looking at the new gTLD program as a threat rather than an opportunity. “The innovation is happening in companies that are looking at it strategically, not tactically or defensively,” said Ernst, who said many consumer and “high-tech b-to-b” marketers are contemplating gTLD applications. Ernst added that marketers should be making their decisions on gTLDs now. “If you expect to ever want to own your name, then the best chance of that happening is to apply now, so put the business case together and prepare a strategic application,” he wrote. “If you don't see any strategic opportunities for your firm in owning and operating a registry, then stay on the sidelines.” Alexa Raad, CEO of Architelos, a TLD consulting and managed registry services company, said marketing executives have three choices when grappling with the new gTLD program: “Do nothing, apply or defend against somebody else applying. Each of those choices has its own disadvantages and costs. What hasn't been talked about are the benefits of gTLDs.” Raad said that among the opportunities for marketers are the ability to bring far-flung websites under a single gTLD. For instance, she pointed out that Disney had at least 37 different websites that might be more easily found by consumers and managed by the company under .disney. She also said companies such as General Motors Corp. or any b-to-b company that sells through distribution could benefit by having a gTLD for its dealer or distributor base. A .chevy, for instance, could help Chevrolet dealers with security. In the end, Raad was dismissive of the ANA's protestations against ICANN's program: “They've spent quite a bit of time opposing it without providing guidance to their members and agencies,” she said.
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