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Challenges of “.brand” domain names

The structure of domain names and ICANN rules hamper .brand domains.

Image with the words www.brand

Earlier this week ICANN posted a notice from Honeywell that it wants to terminate its .honeywell domain name. These domains–with a trademark after the dot–are commonly referred to as .brand top level domain names.

They were shoehorned into the existing framework for top level domains, making them hard to use in innovative ways. A couple of the comments on my post about Honeywell’s withdrawal point these out.

One commenter, who goes by the name Snoopy, questioned what should go left of the dot in a .brand domain for the company’s main website. He said www.brand is a possibility.

John Berryhill responded and pointed out some of the challenges of .brand domains:

Right, but they’d all have to adopt the same protocol in order to have a hope of “guessability”. But you are spot on with the words being in the wrong order, as I have also heard from the brand manager for a major automobile manufacturer. Many more .brand TLDs are going to be dropped since they were obtained on the basis of there being a limited time window to apply for them, so quite a few of the applications were simply exercises in avoiding a lost opportunity to obtain something they could figure out later if they wanted to use. (and, yes, urged on by the ICANN consultant corps)

In order to advertise the “home” destination in a .brand TLD, the brand owner, with potentially billions of value in the goodwill associated with their brand, has to pick some other word and give it ‘top billing’ on their marquee, ahead of their brand. I’s particularly tough if you are, say, Yamaha, and make everything from concert pianos to motorcycles. It would be one thing if DNS wild-carding were allowed, but it’s not since ICANN’s revenue model is based on registration volume of 2LDs. That also rules out any “TLD as database” applications, such as being able to use (product-serial-number).brand in service, support or warranty applications.

Having control of one’s own DNS data to the top-level may be of some marginal utility, but there is precious little practical value .brand TLDs. Now, of course, someone with something to sell may pop up here and argue otherwise, but one can’t deny the fact that you have better odds of seeing a snow leopard than a .brand TLD with any substantial use. It is going to become more difficult to foist these on brand owners against the growing wasteland of discarded .brand TLDs, so I can certainly understand the urgency.

One of the better pitches for these things was by Joe Alagna, then of Centralnic, who would explain that early email addresses, such as through Compuserve, would look like “(numeric)@compuserve.net”, which made no brand impression. Later, one could get “(brand)@earthlink.net” which included the brand, but still advertised Earthlink. Then, it became easier to get addresses like help@brand.com, which eliminated the ad for the provider, but still implicitly ‘advertises’ Verisign as the .com registry. Joe could get you to buy sand in the desert if you listen long enough.

The thing is, generic TLDs like .com are just that – generic. Nobody associates any particular brand with .com or other gTLDs (unless they are in the domain business), so they are blank canvases which do not detract from the commercial impression of a URL or email address.

This will be a challenge unless or until ICANN changes how these domains can be used. Even then, it will be an uphill battle.

For the pro-.brand view, listen to this podcast.

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  1. Rubens Kuhl

    One of the main problem for brands is that ICANN mandates them to use infrastructure that brand TLDs don’t really need, like SRS, EPP, per-domain WHOIS, data escrow etc. Which Infrastructure providers obviously like, but the only “database” needed to administer a brand TLD zone file is Notepad/TextEdit.

    All in the name of a vogon-like bureaucracy.

    • Ben McIlwain

      +1000. If you could simply operate closed brand TLDs using just DNS, and especially if you could have wildcard records at the top level, there would be so many more possibilities. The required bureaucracy is seriously hampering the potential of brand TLDs, and it’s so unnecessary.

      • Rubens Kuhl

        Wildcard is not just an ICANN taboo, it comes with concerns from technical communities, as the IAB recommendations on this show.

        But while wildcards can be harmful, it can do no harm in specific scenarios… then the bureaucracy noted the ban was aligned with their own self-interests and made no route available for TLDs wanting to provide it correctly.

    • Richard

      The Saxo Bank is using their .brand in the right way imo. They couldn’t get saxo.com so they applied for .saxo and now their main website is home.saxo
      They are also forwarding their other domains like saxobank.com to home.saxo

  2. EnCirca (@EnCirca)

    I expect that a .BRAND TLD will eventually submit a request to wildcard their TLD and succeed. The ICANN community would have a difficult time to justify denying it.

    In reality, all TLD’s are brands, as in “A brand is an overall experience of a customer that distinguishes an organization or product from its rivals in the eyes of the customer.” (wikipedia). This applies to .COM and .US just as much as .FACEBOOK.

    New TLDs will succeed when they are successful in positioning themselves versus .COM for their target market. For example, Which is a more secure website? One ending in .COM or one ending in .BANK?

    • Rubens Kuhl

      It’s a bit old for me to recall it exactly, but I believe .travel already applied once and got it denied, even though at the time there was a gTLD (.museum) using wildcard and until today there are some ccTLDs using (.dk for instance).

      Equating Spec 13 TLDs and open TLDs is exactly would lead us to requiring lots of useless infrastructure from Brand TLDs, so…

  3. James Kite

    The problem with .brand owners is a lack of imagination.

    .brand has a wealth of possibilities (even with existing limitations)

    But you do need the right .brand to work with.

      • steve brady


        Suppose each year 4 Million new customers get injected at Botox Dealers receive a free .botox domain.

        No renewal fees ever on .botox domains. Customers retain full use of the domain for the duration of the injections. .Botox registrations can only be sold or transferred by Botox. Assignees of .botox domains may only relinquish the registration back to Botox free of charge.



        How do residents in high rise skyscrapers get Spring Water. In a big city only rich people can afford to have 30 gallons of Spring Water delivered up the freight elevator to their suite. It costs a fortune to back that Diesel water delivery truck up the their loading dock and pay the CDL Driver 100 grand a year to navigate their alley.

        Become a .evian reseller to your neighbors. They place orders to your .evian domain, you receive the truck at your loading dock then deliver bottled Spring Water to you neighbors with a dolly and get paid.

        I believe .brand won’t work if it can’t work first with Spring Water delivery.

        Do you have any idea how many gallons of Deer Park Spring Water I hauled to my apartment in DC between 1995 and 2012. Thousands of Gallons. I spent my entire 20’s and 30’s getting Spring Water home on Rollerblades. In 1999 I’d have two gallons in my backpack and a gallon in each hand on Inline Skates in Washington DC. I rollerbladed in grocery stores all over Georgetown and Pentagon City for 17 years. No cell phone, no cameras, no video games.

        There you have it .Rollerblade deliver the .Evian to .Botox

      • James Kite


        That was a great brand.

        They could have begun with geographic domains…


        …building an umbrella focused on strengthening the brand, removing the husk from the equation with a pure focus on the corporation.

        Ronald.McDonalds could have been aimed at kids activities and charities.

        Ronald.McDonalds/house for instance

        McDonalds screwed up by dropping it.

        On the other hand, a .brand focused on a very specific product is shortsighted, because that product may have a limited life and what do you do with other products that you don’t cover that end up more popular?

        Yes, a .com (or any other extension) can do the same…

        But a brand with a .brand stands out.

        Advertising is about setting yourself apart from the rest, getting noticed.

        • Snoopy

          His name is “Ronald McDonald”, so it still would not have made sense. McDonalds haven’t screwed up by dropping the tld, it a white elephant. They’ve saved a bunch of money.

        • Andrew Allemann

          That first one seems like a horrible example. If you’re going to do country.McDonalds/state/city/suburb/street, why not just mcdonalds.com/country/states/city/suburb/street?

  4. Pterippus

    If Snoopy is correct and companies can already use http://www.brand under the current framework, then it is primarily the companies’ lack of branding vision that is/was the problem. People are conditioned to type in ‘brand.com’; if you’re going to attempt to break this mold and recondition them towards other types of domain formats then it is more logical to condition them towards ‘www.brand’ rather than ‘www.home.brand’ – the latter being longer and with a foreign word added in.

    • Snoopy

      The problem is just that using these domains is confusing for customers and thus a bad idea. The solution though is simple.

  5. Snoopy

    Btw, using http://www.brand is a bad idea because the .com is missing and it is no shorter than brand.com, it looks like a printing error.

    In 2019 registries are pushing a proven loser in terms of a round 2. The more it gets delayed the harder it will be to sell.

    • Pterippus

      Using http://www.brand would be an excellent idea in the long term; these companies each own their own dot com version so people who think it’s a typo would just add the dot com as usual and be diverted to their main site. With http://www.brand there is only one variable to remember – the brand itself. With brand.TLD one has to remember the brand and the TLD; even though dot com is highly dominant some large companies use dot net or dot org. Using http://www.brand would be four characters shorter for those typing it in (i.e. the user would type in ‘brand’ rather than ‘brand.com’). Nobody types in the ‘www’, for dot com or otherwise – the ‘www’ is just to advertise that it’s a web domain.

      Now if you tell me that those who own/ed ‘.brand’ could/can not have their sites accessed by people simply typing ‘brand’ into their browser then it is an ICANN failure of vision as I originally stated in the Honeywell article.


      Notably, thus far we have been talking about how users get to a piece of virtual real estate; there’s also arguably something very exclusive and credible about having one’s site located at https://brand. It is the purest expression of one’s brand. John Berryhill was right; when one sees ‘brand.com’ one, implicitly or otherwise, sees ‘brand.Verisign’ (or ‘brand.’something-other-than-brand’ for those not familiar with TLDs).

  6. Pat T

    The .Brands will take off as soon as the .Brands start using them as marketing slogans in advertising, and use the .brand domains to provide a unqiue experience when the user visits the site.

    For example – drive.bmw (could take take users to a website that demonstrates a POV experience for the user driving a new BMW).

    Creativity and the marketing strategy will be the genesis, ushering in a completely new online experience that few, if any of us, can conceive.

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