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In the Internet domain name game, identity is everything, even to the company that keeps track of everyone else's name. Network Solutions Inc., the only registrar of World Wide Web addresses since 1993, last year needed to build its own brand before new competition arrived.

NSI manages InterNIC for the U.S. Department of Commerce, having won the solo right to register domain names for that federal agency six years ago. But major competitors were given the go-ahead in May to apply to compete with NSI. Communications heavyweights American Online and AT&T Corp. already have begun preparing to enter the market.

NSI and Devon Direct launched their pre-emptive branding campaign in April 1998, trying to induce companies to register immediately.

"Anticipating the competition that would be coming into the category, we wanted to communicate NSI's position as the most experienced registrar of domain names out there," said Ron Greene, president-CEO of Devon, Berwyn, Pa.

The six-month integrated campaign conceived by Devon, tagged "The dot-com people," consisted of a TV spot handled by Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmet-terer/Euro RSCG, New York, followed by a direct mail blitz, direct response print ads and an online push with banner ads.

Response was swift and exceeded expectations. NSI's Web address registrations increased from 1.8 million in April to more than 4 million at the end of 1998, and today it counts more than 5 million registrants.

"We saw the campaign deliver some pretty significant numbers," said Ben Turner, VP-marketing at NSI. Based on last year's success, a new direct mail and print

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