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What O.co says about new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, January 21, 2011, Domain Registries

Overstock.com’s shock rebranding move yesterday is not only a big marketing coup for .CO Internet, it also may be good news for new top-level domains in general.

In a pair of US TV commercials (available here and here if you’re overseas) Overstock has started calling itself O.co, the domain it bought privately from the .co registry for $350,000 last July.

When I wrote, last November, “Overstock’s .com domain is its brand, and that’s not about to change”, I may well have been wrong. Go to overstock.com and look at the logo.

This is good evidence, if it were needed, that the very same trademark interests currently opposed to ICANN’s new TLDs program are also keenly aware of the benefits.

Overstock has had its eyes on O.com for over five years, and fought unsuccessfully within ICANN to have single-letter .com domains released from the VeriSign reserved list.

It was not until .co relaunched last summer – essentially a new TLD – that Overstock got the opportunity to register a domain (almost?) as good as the one it wanted.

I find this interesting because Overstock, like many other major brand owners, has been a vocal opponent of new TLDs.

In a July 2009 letter to ICANN (pdf), for example, Overstock expresses many of the same views about new TLDs that are still being expressed by the trademark interests currently holding up the program.

I’m not suggesting that Overstock’s eagerness to use O.co negates its specific criticisms of the new TLDs program, but its conflicting behavior does seem to suggest a certain degree of cognitive dissonance.

On the one hand, it opposed new TLDs. But when a new TLD launched, it grasped the opportunity with both hands and rebranded the whole company around it.

If what I hear is true, many of the companies publicly opposed to new TLDs are also the ones simultaneously investigating their own “.brand” domains.

Could Overstock’s latest move represent a pent-up demand for new TLDs among big brands? What does that mean for the future of .com as the internet’s premium real estate?

What does the Overstock commercial mean for .co?

Kevin Murphy, November 5, 2010, Domain Registries

Judging by the number of exclamation marks being deployed over on the .CO Internet blog today, it’s a fairly safe bet that the company is rather happy with Overstock.com’s latest TV commercial.

It’s the first high-profile commercial to feature a .co domain, in this case o.co, which could go some way to raise the newly relaunched TLD’s profile in the US.

While it’s a nice first step for .CO, I wouldn’t say its TLD has necessarily “arrived” yet, on the basis of this ad, for a few reasons.

First, what’s this “shortcut” business?

Overstock.com commercial

Should this be troubling?

The biggest marketing coups .CO has inked to date have been for x.co and t.co, URL shorteners offered by Go Daddy and Twitter respectively. Now, Overstock is using its o.co as a “shortcut”, which bounces visitors to overstock.com.

True, Overstock’s .com domain is its brand, and that’s not about to change, but its use of o.co as a “shortcut” may perpetuate the short-term perception that .co’s primary purpose is short URLs.

On the upside, the company is actively encouraging customers to type a .co domain into their browsers.

Getting this “type-in awareness” is something I know that .CO Internet is looking to foster, something that the Twitter deal does not necessarily bring to the table.

It’s also encouraging that Overstock feels comfortable using a .co domain where it does not own the equivalent .com. That said, nobody does. Most single-letter .com domains are still reserved.

While this may be a branding risk for Overstock, could it actually be helpful for .CO, training fat-fingered users the difference between .com and .co domains? It seems possible.

It’s interesting to note that Overstock is using “www.” for its .co, but not for its .com, presumably in order to train viewers that “this is a URL”, much the same as .com domains were once uniformly advertised with the www prefix.

A reliable sign that .co has “arrived” would be when an advertiser feels happy to drop the www.

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