Playing the New Name Game

FairWinds Partners —  October 2, 2012

This week, a few members of the FairWinds team are off in London to meet with some clients and friends across the pond. Of course, no matter where we are, we’ve always got new gTLDs on the brain. That’s why this picture (below) got us thinking:

Currys.Digital Sign

This is the sign outside of Currys, a UK-based purveyor of electronics with stores all over England and Ireland. Brits likely know that they can find Currys online at Currys.co.uk, but anyone who has perused ICANN’s published list of new gTLD applications knows that Donuts, Inc. submitted an applications for .DIGITAL. That means that in another year or so, Currys.Digital could be a viable new domain name. We first discussed this concept on FairWinds’ Domain Name Strategy blog about two years ago, when Sony was promoting its Make.Believe campaign (pronounced “make-dot-believe”). Back then, we speculated that if and when a flood of new gTLDs entered the market, users may begin to interpret that tagline as a domain name, and that such an interpretation could lead to serious confusion on the part of Internet users.

The Currys.Digital example drags that speculation back to the forefront now that we have a rough idea of which extensions actually will become new gTLDs. Donuts was the only applicant to apply for .DIGITAL, and given the company’s high buy-in to the New gTLD Program (307 applications submitted), odds are we’ll see the .DIGITAL application come to fruition. In that case, it will be possible for the shop in the picture to go out and register the domain name Currys.Digital – but just because something is possible doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen.

Consider a scenario where Currys does not register its eponymous .DIGITAL domain name, but Boots, the well-known, UK-based pharmacy and drug store chain, applied for the .BOOTS gTLD. Imagine you’re a consumer and an average Internet user, walking down this street in London, and you see the sign that displays “Currys.Digital.” Then, a short block later, you see a sign in the window of Boots that reads, “Visit us online at our new site: Pharmacy.Boots.” Further up the road, there is another retailer whose name is SportsDirect.com.

So which of these is a domain name and which is not? How is the average Internet user, who beginning in mid-2013 is likely to be bombarded with marketing about new gTLD domains, supposed to be able to remember which is a viable domain name and which is not, when the number of available endings increases from 22 to over 1,000?

The key takeaway for brand owners here is that brands who applied for new gTLDs are going to have a bit of an uphill battle ahead of them to make sure that their customers and other Internet users are aware of their new gTLDs and that they navigate to them. But brand owners, who generally have a) a pre-existing customer base, and b) substantial marketing budgets and access to a wealth of marketing channels, have a leg up over entrepreneurial gTLD applicants whose budgets may be much tighter and whose audience base (the wide world of potential domain name registrants) is much more nebulous, and therefore, harder to target when it comes to marketing communications.

Oh, and whoever is in charge of Currys domain name portfolio should consider snapping up Currys.Digital during the .DIGITAL Sunrise period.