The IPKat has been musing on an interesting piece currently distributed on BrandChannel and which emanates from internet branding consultancy Fairwinds Partners. Called "The Power of Internet Gripe Sites: Managing the Destructive Potential of 'BrandSucks.com'", it makes riveting reading. The IPKat never argues with facts, but he finds it very hard to believe one thing he read in this report, which is that 67% of internet users reach their target sites by direct navigation (which apparently is more likely to bring them into contact with sucks sites) than through the use of search engines. Still, the rest of the document was far more credible.
To give some idea what this 17-page piece is about, the key to it is expressed here
"Since gripe sites are often difficult to reclaim, one common defensive strategy is the registration of brandsucks domains by brand owners. These domains are composed of a known brand, followed by the word “sucks.” The addition of “sucks” to the brand is one of the simpler and more intuitive pejorative terms and brand owners often seek advice on how to handle these domains. “Sucks.com” is the rightmost anchor of nearly 20,000 domains registered today. Two thousand domains have “stinks.com” on the right and about the same number of domains begin with the term “boycott.” “Sucks” is evidently the preferred violation of brands that domain registrants want to protest or tarnish. Because of this, we chose to focus on “sucks” sites and gathered data from these domains based on a variety of perspectives. The purpose of this paper is to take a look at the ways in which brands deal with this dilemma in hopes of establishing a set of best practices; which will act as one component of an overall domain name strategy".The paper's methodology and findings are then explained, along with some fascinating conclusions. For example,
"Only 35 percent of the brandsucks domains we surveyed are owned by the brand found within the domain. Forty-five percent of the domains are currently available for registration and each one presents an opportunity for brand owners to reach out to the Internet community or to prevent a potential public relations nightmare. These sites garner traffic by luring legitimate buyers searching for the brand in addition to disgruntled customers and those that are simply curious to see the content on a potential gripe site. Brand owners are advised to take a serious look at the traffic that these names garner and the kind of unique marketing opportunity they can afford".The reports gives out a notable commendation to cinema chain Loews:
"Loews, the popular movie theater chain (recently spun off from Loews Corporation to AMC), is the domain registrant of loewssucks.com and placed a “Guest Satisfaction Survey” on the page that resolves when users type this domain in their browser address bars. Loews makes good use of the domain in a way that allows it to reach out to customers and get feedback about their experiences. If a customer stumbled upon the site by accident, then he or she is likely to be impressed with the brand’s dedication to customer service. If a customer was looking for a gripe site, then the brand has at least tried to mitigate whatever poor experience led that customer to look for such a site. By doing so, the brand is essentially getting a second chance at providing a positive experience to their customer and restoring faith in their brand".For the benefit of concerned brand-owners (and vindictive or aggrieved consumers) Fairwinds provides a list of registered domains so you can see your own brand's sucks site and discover who owns it (the IPKat notes that the ebaysucks.com site is not controlled by L'Oreal or Tiffany ...). There's also a list of UDRP complaints involving sucks.com sites, from which (says Merpel) you can learn either (i) how to file a successful UDRP against a gripe site or (ii) how to set up a jolly good one, depending on your proclivities.