YourBrand.sucks — Unless You Act Now!

by Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A.
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As the INTA Annual Meeting winds down, one memory for me that certainly stuck out was an on-site ad campaign revolving around the new “.sucks” top-level domain (“TLD”). Depending on whom you ask, it’s either ingenious or diabolical.

Just outside the San Diego Convention Center, the throngs of orange lanyard-wearing conference attendees were greeted by some rather cheery folks holding white signs with the “.sucks” TLD laid over some speech bubbles.

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That nice lady who graciously agreed to pose for the picture is handing out — of all things — condoms (she’s holding one in its .sucks packing in the photo). It goes without saying that INTA attendees receive a variety of knick-knacks, but generally not of this nature.

Also spotted in the wild was a truck carrying a bright blue advertisement with “INTA.sucks” made frequent appearances around the San Diego Convention Center (though, sadly, I never had my camera handy). They were even present in the exhibitor’s space.

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It turns out that the company behind the whole campaign is Vox Populi Registry Ltd, which runs the www.nic.sucks website and refers visitors to various authorized .sucks domain name registrars. You can obtain your very own .sucks domain name for the low, low price of $2,500 (if, that is, your domain name isn’t among the “Premium” domain names that range upwards to an undisclosed amount). And with the general public window to purchase a .sucks domain name opening on June 1, time is running out for brand owners in the Trademark Clearinghouse to beat the traffic.

Much ink has been spilled about the .sucks TLD and its effects for brand owners. For its part, Vox Populi generally ignores the uproar surrounding the TLD’s very existence and instead adopts a marketing angle that is decidedly more altruistic. According to the nic.sucks site:

By building an easy-to-locate, “central town square” available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, dotSucks is designed to help consumers find their voices and allow companies to find the value in criticism. Each dotSucks domain has the potential to become an essential part of every organization’s customer relationship management program.

The nic.sucks website directs users to a video entitled “Our Vision for the Conversation,” featuring excerpted video footage of Martin Luther King and an appearance by consumer advocate Ralph Nader. “The word ‘sucks’ is now a protest word, and it’s up to people to give it more meaning,” Nader says in the video, as the words “Let Your Voice be Heard” appear on the screen.

So it appears that Vox Populi, the “voice of the people,” advertises the .sucks TLD as a means for John Q. Public to take action against corporate malfeasance. But that doesn’t explain their presence in San Diego at all. If .sucks is meant to spark a consumer-driven populist movement, then why in the world would Vox Populi seek the attention of a niche group of trademark practitioners and brand counsel? Wouldn’t they stand to benefit if brand owners miss the chance to scoop up and thereby “neutralize” the domain name? Shouldn’t the appropriately outraged customer have first dibs? Given the hefty price tag for a .sucks domain name, it’s hard to ignore the feeling of a shakedown going on.

Indeed, by appearing among us suits at INTA rather than to a general consumer base, Vox Populi sent a stark message to brand owners and their counsel: hurry up and register your .sucks domain name before an angry customer does. A “prophylactic” measure, if you will.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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