Domain-name dilemma worsens

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Dennis Scheyer, president and creative director of San Francisco-based agency Scheyer, was pitching the business for, a tickets and entertainment site. The site planned to drop the name TixToGo, which Mr. Scheyer liked and thought was intuitive, for a name it chose in a consumer contest.

Mr. Scheyer said of the three finalists, "One was like breakfast cereal you would not eat. One sounded like a cough medicine. And one sounded like a prophylactic." He recommended that TixToGo stick with its original name. The company did not take his advice. Instead, the company chose and went with Y&R Advertising, San Francisco.

Acteva was unavailable for comment at press time, but its site said: "Act conveys activities. E signifies e-commerce and va has that international flavor."

The site's not alone in trying to find the best name. At stake is not only the ability of Internet users to find a specific Web site, but also the virtual brand essence of a company.

Just last week, 5-month-old wedding site Della & James dumped James in favor of the more straightforward, while computer site Onsale adopted the better-known identity of its newly acquired former rival,

These aren't the only sites that have taken on different identities. Earlier this year, communities site the Mining Co. became; search site Ask Jeeves is advertising itself as


At a time when many of the best URLs are in use, under registration for future use or available only through costly auctions at sites such as and, which specialize in matching buyers and sellers of high-profile URLs, it is becoming increasingly difficult--if not downright impossible--to find a unique and intuitive name.

"You are your URL," said Allen Adamson, managing partner of Landor Associates, the brand consultancy arm of Young & Rubicam. "And your URL, at least right now, had better be easy for Internet users to spell."

Examples of names that may not roll easily off the fingertips: Hungry Minds, an online continuing education site, and, a site focusing on continuing education for professionals in regulated industries such as accounting, financial services, healthcare and law.

"We wanted a catchy, sexy name that resonated with our target audience, adults 25 to 40, that we provide lifelong learning online," said Gary Millrood, VP-business development and sales at Hungry Minds, San Francisco. "We felt that our target audience is best described as hungry for knowledge, hungry for learning, and while we considered a lot of other names, we feel this is the name that we can move forward with."

Hungry Minds, which paid a St. Paul, Minn., bookstore with the same name an undisclosed sum for the URL rights, plans a full-blown branding ad campaign in the first quarter of next year, Mr. Millrood said. The company is on the verge of naming FCB Worldwide, San Francisco, to handle that estimated $8 million to $10 million effort. A two-week flight of ads ran in late October in The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News and The Wall Street Journal via Resource, San Francisco.

Los Angeles-based Yipinet, however, is still wrestling with its name and URL. Although the company has worked with Landor Associates' San Francisco office since last summer, the professional education site is still struggling to overcome various internal and external obstacles to come up with an appropriate name and URL.

"The most crucial element is that we come up with a name that is easy to spell," said Lisa Morita, VP-marketing and consumer sales, Yipinet.

"Yipi . . . it can be spelled all different ways, and, more importantly, it doesn't really give you a true idea of what the site, of what our company, is all about."

Ms. Morita said it's important Yipinet have a name that meets all the following criteria: be easy to spell, be appropriate for the target audience and be consistent with the overall positioning of the company. The new name also must pass trademark tests, cultural and linguistic barriers and, of course, the URL must be available.

"You can build a great brand name with time and lots of marketing dollars, certainly, but we need a shortcut, and that is coming up with a name that has some inherent meaning to it, that can instantly signal what we are and what we stand for," Ms. Morita said. Yipinet tried to rename itself, but after failing to concoct a name for which it could secure rights, it hired Landor.


Once it decides on a new name, Yipinet plans a print and online advertising effort directed toward the professionals it currently serves. Notice of the name change also will be distributed through professional societies and associations. However, until a name is decided upon, all plans for a new logo and marketing effort have been pushed back, "most likely into the new year," a company spokeswoman said.

Yipinet's soul-searching for a new name was sparked by some feedback it received from its users. Della & James' name change also was inspired by user feedback, but in a more positive way.

"It's more like how Federal Express became simply FedEx," said Cathleen Thomas, senior marketing manager, "It became clear through searches and through e-mail from our customers (that) they were shortening the name to simply Della. We felt that this was something we could do to make it easier for our customers to find us, but it also keeps intact the richness of our name."

She also said users were confused about how to enter the long name and whether to include an ampersand. The site is named after the young couple Della and James from O. Henry's "Gift of the Magi."


Moving to also is an indication of the widening scope of the company's gift registry business. Although Della & James has been primarily a wedding registry, Della.-com allows the company to move into the broader, all-occasion gift-giving market. The company's main site will segue to, with Della Weddings the new wedding registry site.

Under the theme, "Give better gifts," will break before the Thanksgiving holiday an estimated $10 million national TV and radio campaign. Grant, Scott & Hurley, San Francisco, handles.

Onsale, preparing to buy, conducted research that showed Egghead was the better-known brand. So Onsale is adopting the Egghead name, which gained attention in the '80s as a chain of software stores; it recast itself this decade as a Web-only computer products store. The new will promote itself with an $18 million fourth-quarter campaign including cable TV, radio and print; USWeb/CKS, San Francisco, handles offline advertising for Onsale and Lot21, San Francisco, manages online. The new's annual budget is $30 million.

In a cyberworld filled with dot-coms, it would seem to make sense to keep a name straightforward.

"Certainly, a dot-com wants the name to be as simple and direct as possible," agreed Preston Dodd, an analyst with Jupiter Communications. "The limitations the dot-coms face is that it all comes down to the ability to remember a name."

Remembering what the name is all about was extremely important to, which changed its name from the Mining Co. in May.

"We're a company that is about just about everything, a place where you can find information about virtually any topic, so we wanted a name that reflected exactly that," said John Caplan, senior VP-marketing,

"We found people weren't making the association with mining--that they're mining for information--but they did instantly grasp that they could find information about any given subject."

Mr. Caplan refused to list any of the 300 names that were considered during's renaming process. "I've never told anyone what the final names were and I'm not about to do so now."

However, Mr. Caplan did say that in the 13 weeks since the May 17 launch of the new name and site, the number of average daily unique users has climbed 110%.

Margeotes/Fertitta & Partners, New York, handles's estimated $20 million ad budget. "To be a winner in this space, you have to understand customer needs and provide a clear brand position," Mr. Caplan said.


While Ask Jeeves is advertising its site as, the San Francisco search engine has taken a relaxed attitude that however people might type in its name, they'll eventually get to the site. Such misspellings as "" have been registered.

Since it went with the straightforward approach earlier this year, David Hellier, VP-marketing, consumer answer network, Ask Jeeves, said there have been "significant" increases in traffic on the site.

"We are committed to branding ourselves as because it says what we are; we are a site where one can ask and get answers to questions," said Mr. Hellier. "We believe that as the technology of browsers improves, it will be easier for users to get where they want to go . . . and that it won't be necessary to have a simple URL."

Landor's Mr. Adamson agreed with the assessment that the short-is-better strategy is temporary. "Smarter software, more familiarity with the Internet, all of this will take dot-com naming to the next level, something beyond names that are a specific premise or are names that have general associations, like The dot-coms eventually will learn . . . that they're going to need to have names that stand for one benefit."

When Yipinet finally decides upon a name, it's one that Ms. Morita hopes will be long-lasting.

"This is not some trivial little thing; our company name really matters to us and to our customers," she said. "That's our product; it's what our customers see, touch and do everyday. So we need something significant going forward. It's just so important to our future as a company."

Copyright November 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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