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Brett Stone is the Director and Chief Developer at Stone Digital.
Digital Brand Protection: The Data Behind The World’s 17 Most Valuable Brands

Ever wondered how big global brands protect their brands online?

Within this blog, I investigate the expansive network of URLs / domains owned by large brands and how they use them to protect their intellectual property.

Let’s begin…

To start, let’s do a quick analysis. 

Every year since 2010, Forbes has released it’s annual list of the World’s Most Valuable Brands. 

Screenshot of Forbes Annual, 'The World's Most Valuable Brands' List - 2018 Version.
Forbes Annual, ‘The World’s Most Valuable Brands’ List – 2018 Version

A quick analysis of the top 20 brands from the 2018 list, show that…

On average 5,355 unique domains are owned by the top 17 global brands

Big brands own big numbers of domains.

So the key question is: Why are they doing this? What are their key motivations?

Broadly speaking, there are 3 key motivations for URL acquisitions that relate to brand protection.

1. Defend against cybersquatting

Cybersquatting, as defined by US Federal Legislation, is the act of registering domain names of well-known trademarks and then attempting to make a profit by selling those domain names at an extorted price.

Over the years, there have been many high profile cases of cybersquatting. 

Most of which ended up favouring the trademark holder.

Screenshot of current version of TomCruise.com.
TomCruise.com the one time target of high profile cybersquatting.

From TomCruise.com to ebay01.comParisHilton.com to TrumpIndia.com

All of these domains were at point held by a cybersquatter.

In each of the examples above, the cybersquatter lost.

The cybersquatter who held TrumpIndia.com was ruled to have to pay $32,000 to Donald Trump as a result of his activity.

Similar outcomes occurred to the cybersquatters who owned TomCruise.comEbay01.com and ParisHilton.com.

USA Legislation and the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s arbitration method usually work in favour of the trademark holders.

Nonetheless, many companies want to avoid the effort and legal costs associated to getting rid of a cybersquatter.

As a result, many brands will acquire thousands of websites preemptively. 

2. Defend against negative brand attacks

Negative focused brand attack websites have become an easy way for disgruntled former employees or customers to propagate their opinion.

PwCsucks.com and bmwsucks.com are both examples of this phenomenon.

Screenshot of current version of PwCsucks.com
PwCSucks.com – the real deal. A website PwC Management would love to avoid.

Both are live, functioning websites full of information and comments that PwC and BMW would no doubt not be happy about. Both websites appear prominently in a Google Search for “pwc sucks” or “Do BMW cars suck?”.

So what do big brands do to avoid these websites appearing? They pre-emptively acquire those domain names. Examples from Fortune’s Most Valuable Brands visible below.

Screenshot of 'This site can't be reached' error page
generalelectricstinks.net cannot be found!

Visit the domains mentioned above and all you’ll see is blank page.

These domains have all been acquired by the main trademark holder for the sole purpose of keeping that website inactive.

3. Defend against misspelled versions of core URLs

Making a typographical error (typo) is a daily occurrence for most internet users, with some typos that are very common. 

Typosquatters will buy domains with a typo in them (example: linkdin.com rather than linkedin.com) and either create a phishing site or attempt to make profit from its traffic. 

The intent is almost always harmful.

In the 2000s, a Russian man created the websites googkle.com and ghoogle.com to insert malware on user machines.

Facebook now currently own these misspelt domain names: Facdebook.com, faccebook.com and Faceboooik.com

Common misspellings of Facebook will redirect you to the main Facebook website. Facebook has engaged in large scale acquisition of misspelled versions of URL to protect brand.

Try in yourself with Facebook. Attempt to misspell Facebook.com and see whether you’re redirected to the page.

Conclusion

Big brands put a lot of effort into their online brand protection. The array of risks are expansive for large brands.

No wonder some of the world’s biggest brands on average own thousands of domains at any one point.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. See more from the blog

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