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ICANN Joins Google in Putting Boot Into Brands

What is a brand worth? Well, a couple of months ago a lot more than it is now thanks to Google and ICANN.

Successfully building a brand identity costs a lot in time, thought and money but the rewards are massive. A recognised brand is great advertising in its own right, it can instantly convey quality or suitability and alike. Ultimately it identifies your company and your products so the consumer is in no doubt about whom they are dealing with.

Well that was until Google and ICANN came up with their bright ideas for the ‘improvement’ of the internet experience.

Take for example hair accessories company GHD. Its ‘GHD’ brand is so strong that the company gets vastly more internet traffic from searches on its brand than for searches on the generic term ‘hair straighteners’. This is very unusual and it reflects just how strong the GHD brand is.

Unfortunately Google and ICANN’s new rules will undermine all of GHD’s hard marketing work.

Back at the start of May Google changed its Adwords rules to allow anyone to bid on any term. As a result companies have been able to position themselves at the top of Google search listings for their rivals, thus undermining the value of rival’s hard earned brand position.

Now ICANN, the US-appointed guardian of internet domains, has decided that it is a good idea to have a free for all. So just about anything is possible after the dot now. For example, .nyc for websites that want to be associated with New York City or .zoo for zoos maybe.

All very sensible and useful, but the decision, as I understand it, also opens up the possibility of firms registering domains under their rivals’ names, for example Asda using .tesco or Toyota using .honda. So yet another opportunity has been created for a brand to be high-jacked.

Reported by Brand Republic, Jonathan Robinson, the chief operating officer of NetNames, agrees. He has described the move as “the equivalent of opening a can of worms in terms of online infringement and cybersquatting”.

Then there is cost to consider. ICANN is a non-profit organisation but the reseller market will make millions out of the rule changes with the most popular suffixes literally going for millions each.

So when the changes kick in in 2009 it will be even harder and more costly for companies to protect their brands from online high-jacking, while users are likely to have a poorer experience. Nice work ICANN!

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