DOMAIN-NAME REGISTRY SITES PUMP UP ADS: REGISTER.COM FACES TOUGH BATTLE AGAINST GIANT NETWORK SOLUTIONS

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Only three months after it began directly registering domain names, Register.com is poised to take on behemoth Network Solutions.

Register.com, New York, an independent Internet domain name registrar, today launches its first ads with radio in Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Washington. Print starts Oct. 1 in the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner and The Washington Post.

The company will spend roughly $2 million on the initial campaign, which runs through Nov. 15. Starting in January, Register.

com will expand the campaign nationally. Spending could reach $30 million next year, said VP-Marketing Sascha Mornell.

The Concept Farm, New York, created radio, print and online ads, which also break today on properties including Go Network, Excite@Home and New York Times Online. Carat, New York, handled offline and online media buying.

DEREGULATION CONTROVERSY

The marketing push breaks amid controversy surrounding the federal government's moves to deregulate an industry dominated by one player for the past seven years.

Since 1992, Network Solutions has been licensed by the government as the official registrar of Internet domain names. The company, which last year made $11.2 million on revenues of $93.7 million, built up a list of more than 5 million existing domain names. Then in 1998, the government established ICANN, the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names & Numbers, to oversee the move to create competition for Network Solutions. The U.S. Department of Commerce has been testing five accredited registrars, one of which is Register.com, to access Network Solutions' database of registered domain names, to register .com, .net and .org domain names. The other four registrars are America Online, CORE (Internet Council of Registrars), France Telecom/

Oleane and Melbourne IT. More than 50 companies are poised to enter the market.

SIGNIFICANT COMPETITOR

Although it has registered more than 1 million domain names since 1998, first as a reseller then, beginning in June, as a direct registrar, Register.com faces a significant competitor in Network Solutions.

"It is going to be tough, but a strong competitor makes us better," said Richard Forman, president-CEO of Register.com.

Through its ads, Register.com is "trying to relay the passion behind building a company online," said Gregg Wasiak, farmer-director at The Concept Farm.

"What we are hoping the campaign achieves is an emotional attachment," added Mr. Mornell.

To compete, Register.com touts a better, more intuitive interface and more efficient customer service. It is considering lowering its registration fee, said Mr. Mornell.

Network Solutions currently charges $70 for two years for a Web address only and $119 for two years for a Web address and one Web page; Register.com charges $70 for two years for a Web address and $35 for each year after that.

"We would [price] lower if we found we could maintain our margin and attract more people," he said.

DOT COM DIRECTORY

Already, Register.com offers free e-mail to those that register a Web address. It has partnered with Web site hosting company Concentric Networks. Other partners include Staples, Infoseek Corp. and MasterCard International.

And Register.com is looking at selling a directory of domain names similar to Network Solutions' Dot Com Directory, which matches domain names it has registered with business listings in database company infoUSA's database.

"We are the industry leader and we also are providing a service that makes it easy to marry up the consumer and the online business," said Ben Turner, Network Solutions' VP-marketing, of the Dot Com Directory.

And Network Solutions isn't sitting still. The former monopoly broke its own campaign promoting the Dot Com Directory. Webnet-Marketing, Bethesda, Md., handled media buying; Ad-hoc Group, Sausalito, Calif., and Devon Digital, a division of Devon Direct Marketing & Advertising, Berwyn, Pa., handled creative for the print campaign.

With partners -- such as Inktomi, InfoSpace and DoubleClick -- helping distribute the Dot Com Directory and by offering registrants a free directory listing, Network Solutions still has the upper hand in the online registry space.

'TAKING ON THE BIG EVIL'

"Network Solutions starts with a huge advantage. That makes it very hard to compete against them," said Peter Krasilovsky, program director at consultancy Kelsey Group. "Register.com is taking on the big evil by itself. It'll be hard for Register.com to make a dent, given that competition."

Register.com will face additional marketing competition from cable TV spots Network Solutions is planning to break next month.

Still, Register.com, which claims it has "major initiatives" on the way, is moving ahead in its efforts to build a counter-strategy.

"We want to be a full-service destination for small businesses or individuals

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