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Overstock.com slows down O.co rebranding

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2011, Domain Registries

Overstock.com is throttling its transition to the O.co brand after discovering consumers typed o.com even after watching the company’s commercials, according to a report.

The company’s $350,000 purchase of and subsequent rebranding around the o.co domain was possibly the single biggest single marketing coup for .CO Internet, the .co registry, to date.

But now it intends to keep the Overstock.com brand in the US for the time being, while using O.co overseas and on a new iPad app, according to a report in AdAge.

The O.co Coliseum, the stadium in Oakland for which Overstock bought the naming rights, will continue to bear the O.co name.

AdAge quoted Overstock president Jonathon Johnson saying that “a good portion” of people viewing its commercials tried to visit o.com, which is a non-resolving registry-reserved name, instead.

“We were going too fast and people were confused, which told us we didn’t do a good job,” he told AdAge. “We’re still focused on getting to O.co, just at a slower pace… We’re not flipping back, we’re just refocusing.”

This is obviously bad news for commercial new top-level domain applicants, many of which will be looking for all-important anchor tenants to validate their brands at launch.

Marketing people like to refer to the measurable results of others before pulling the trigger on new initiatives. The O.co case is unlikely to create enthusiasm for new TLDs.

On the other hand, it’s commonly believed that when it comes to breaking the .com mindset in the US, it will take more than a trickle of new TLDs such as .co. It will take a flood.

.CO Internet has always taken the position that .co adoption will take time, and that the ICANN new gTLD program will help its cause by raising awareness of non-.com domains.

Overstock.com: a registry’s best friend

Kevin Murphy, September 21, 2011, Domain Registries

O.co, the company formerly known as Overstock.com, has bought the domain name o.info directly from registry manager Afilias for an undisclosed amount.

It’s the first single-character sale Afilias has announced since ICANN gave it the go-ahead to release one and two-letter names from reserved status in April 2010.

What makes it particularly interesting is that O.co has agreed to build a separate web site at o.info, using the domain for the purpose suggested by the TLD string.

The idea of allocating a valuable name to a big brand in exchange for a use commitment – the “founders program” model – is of course now a standard part of a TLD registry’s marketing toolkit.

It’s more unusual too see the same tactics used to promote a decade-old gTLD.

O.co CEO Patrick Byrne said in a statement:

We will use O.info as a website destination to consolidate useful consumer information. The .info domain is the logical destination for visitors to find product information, user manuals, buying guides, manufacturer and brand reviews, video demonstrations and recall notices.

The price has not been disclosed. It could easily be in the six-figures, extrapolating from the $350,000 the company dropped on o.co last year.

On the other hand, it could be lower.

I feel certain that .CO Internet would have handed over o.co for free if it had known how much great publicity it would bring; it’s possible Afilias may have sacrificed part of its windfall in the hope of reaping some marketing benefits too.

It has 25 more letters to sell, after all.

Overstock becomes .co’s anchor tenant from heaven

Overstock.com is to slap its new brand, O.co, on the Oakland Raiders stadium in California, bringing yet more exposure to the .co top-level domain.

The company bought the stadium naming rights back in April, and was pushed into the rebranding now because the sign needs to go up, according to AdAge.

Presumably, whenever American football fans tune into a broadcast or read the sports pages, they’re now going to be exposed to the .co brand.

Not many TLDs have that claim to fame. According to Wikipedia, the only other stadium in the US currently named after a domain is the Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Arizona.

Overstock has been so good for .CO Internet’s marketing, it’s easy to forget that the company actually paid for the domain, splashing out $350,000 a year ago.

I’d hazard a guess that if the registry had known just how prolific the O.co brand would become, it would have given the name away for free.

Currently, the domain o.co redirects to overstock.com, but the site logo refers to “O.co, also known as Overstock.com”.

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?

Overstock to bid for o.co.uk next month?

Kevin Murphy, November 23, 2010, Domain Sales

Overstock.com, which seems to have made registering single-letter domain names a key part of its branding strategy, likely has o.co.uk next in its sights.

The company drew headlines recently when it paid $350,000 for o.co and subsequently used it in its TV ads, and again yesterday when it picked up o.co.za for $9,000.

While it’s well known that o.com is the ultimate prize, Overstock has also been laying the groundwork for buying o.co.uk for over three years.

Nominet, the .uk registry, is set to open up the first of two sunrise periods on double and single-character .co.uk domains on December 1, and I expect Overstock already has its application ready to go.

It might not be an entirely straightforward bid, however.

Under the Nominet sunrise rules, holders of UK trademarks in use before January 1, 2008 are eligible to apply for their short domains.

Overstock, it turns out, has had a registered trademark on o.co.uk since August 2008.

It applied for the UK trademark in January 2008, the same month that Nominet’s policy-setting committees first started discussing the release of single-letter domains.

As far as I can tell, the trademark is considered valid from August 1, 2007, the same time Overstock was granted its US trademark on o.co.uk.

But can the company prove it was “using” the trademark prior to January 1, 2008, given that the domain was reserved? It does not appear to have a UK trademark on the letter O by itself.

One way or the other, I expect Overstock to eventually win the domain. Under Nominet’s rules, contested domains will go to auction, and Overstock has already proved it has deep pockets.

The company also has US trademarks on other O domains that it does not and cannot currently own, including o.info, o.com, and o.eu. It successfully registered and uses o.biz.

It also has a US trademark on o.de, but that domain appears to be currently registered to a German domain investor.

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