Beware of unhappy customers with .sucks domains
The launch of the ".sucks" domain back in March sent a wave of panic through company public relations teams. The idea that someone could tarnish a brand name by cyber-squatting on, say, Vodafone.sucks, ManchesterUnited.sucks or LloydsBank.sucks led to a flurry of registrations by the companies themselves.
To take control of their trademarks on this domain, firms had to cough up around $2,500 per year (it's much cheaper for non-trademarked names) - leading to complaints that Vox Populi, the firm that manages the registry, was holding brands to ransom.
Brand protection company NetNames.com filed a complaint with the European Commission, saying Vox Populi had created a "predatory pricing model" in a "blatant attempt to extort revenues from brand owners."
Despite the furore, more than 6,000 of the domains have been snapped up. While most have been bought for damage limitation purposes and simply parked, inventive companies are exploring more creative uses of .sucks.
"Sucks is a very strong keyword," explained Richard Winslow, brand director at British domain registrar 123-reg, pointing out that people consistently search Google for "brand name + sucks" to see what people are saying about their businesses. That habit is evident from Google Trends data.
Winslow believes that bold companies shouldn't simply buy up the .sucks domain, but they should actually build a website to gather feedback from unhappy customers. Those customers would be writing negative things online anyway, so Winslow suggests the companies use it as an opportunity to improve customer service.
Vox Populi itself is pioneering the art, with the creation of a self-effacing Dotsucks.sucks website, where people can give feedback about what they think of the launch of the new top-level domain.
It also created a provocative advertising campaign playing on one of the biggest rivalries in baseball. A huge billboard that reads "NewYork.sucks" was placed alongside Fenway Park, home to the Boston Red Sox, while New York Yankees fans can see a "Boston.sucks" sign on the road passing Yankee Stadium.
"Boston responded more aggressively than New York," said John Berard, chief executive of the Vox Populi registry. "Maybe it speaks to the different sensibilities of the city."
Others to take advantage of the new domains include insurance broker Greg Sasine, who bought LifeInsurance.sucks. He is using the site to provide policy advice to those who don't like "well-trained, overly groomed" sales people.
"If you go online you can find 10,000 people selling life insurance online. How do you differentiate yourself in an overly pursued market? I like the rebellious side of it and the fact that it stands out in the crowd," he said.
Buying CysticFibrosis.sucks was an obvious investment for The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, although the site is still under construction. The same applies for Dyson.sucks and Hoover.sucks, both of which have been registered by their respective vacuum cleaner manufacturers.
The domain was also a perfect fit for This Meeting Sucks!, an app designed to let people review meetings anonymously. In this case, the name of the app came before the discovery of the domain, but the team liked its "edgy appeal" and the fact that the domain helps raise awareness for their business.
"We do not have issues with those who troll the internet using the .sucks domain. As far as we understand, the internet is pretty much fair game," said Rico Lajom, founding partner of Chicago-based Align Us, which built the app. "ThisMeetingSucks.sucks is still available!" he joked.
Christopher Hofman Laursen, founder of European Domain Centre, believes that .sucks provides a "huge opportunity for startups to get noticed." However, for established businesses already using .com it's "a very tough choice," and tricky to sell internally, he says.
Some are being more speculative. Tristan Tremblay bought MyEx.sucks and plans to turn it into a forum for people to share stories about disastrous former flames.
"If the site takes off, it could become a focal point for people with similar experiences, which would then make it a good place to offer services targeted at their particular needs," he said.
James Walthall, chief executive officer at New York-based Digital Branding, has spent around $10,000 on a range including: Eating.sucks, FastFood.sucks, MyLoveLife.sucks and Sleeping.sucks.
"Think of it like an ETF that trades in the futures of .sucks TLD value.
"If one of these domains is interesting enough for a branding play, its value will pay for all of the purchases," he said.
Software developer Tal Shprecher took a similar view, snapping up HealthInsurance.sucks and Law.sucks, among others. He said: "I thought they could be valuable one day."
Hofman Laursen isn't so sure: "When it was just .com there was value in speculation because of the scarcity, but there are now so many domain extensions [more than 1,000] that it's very difficult." (Bloomberg)