Nobody brings brands to an audience of marketers any better than the Association of National Advertisers.

On the annual occasion of its Masters of Marketing event, the ANA puts its best conference foot forward with a four-day slate that features a number of senior brand managers. And, this weekend, as the organization moves into its second century of serving the advertiser audience, the program line up (and proposed subjects) includes:

  • Adobe Systems: Ann Lewnes, SVP/global marketing ("Confessions of a Digital Marketer");
  • AT&T: Esther Lee Senior, VP/brand marketing & advertising ("Understanding the Power of Your Brand");
  • Electronic Arts: Laura Miele, EVP/marketing, EA Games ("Driving Transformation in a Creatively Driven Company");
  • Facebook: Sheryl Sandberg, COO ("The Social Web");
  • IBM: Jon C. Iwata, SVP/marketing and communications ("Approaches to Developing and Capturing Markets);
  • Kimberly-Clark: Anthony J. Palmer, SVP/CMO ("Putting the Big M in Marketing… How to Put Marketing at the Center of the Plate");
  • Kraft Foods: Dana Anderson, SVP/marketing strategy and communications ("Leap! Why It's Time for Your Company to Make Big Moves");
  • Krispy Kreme: Dwayne Chambers, SVP/CMO ("Krispy Kreme Doughnuts: A Vibrant Life at Seventy-Five");
  • PepsiCo: A. Salman Amin, EVP/global sales and marketing ("Partnering for Success in a Changing World");
  • Visa Inc.: Antonio J. Lucio, Global Chief Marketing, Strategy and Corporate Development Officer ("Global Branding in the Digital Age");
  • Walmart: Stephen F. Quinn, EVP/CMO ("Understanding the Current Consumer");
  • Weight Watchers International: Cheryl Callan, SVP/marketing ("Outperforming The Economy: Seven Lessons from A Brand Transformed During A Recession."

But, in addition to producing a veritable parade of marketing thought leadership, the ANA also considers protection of the interests of all brands as part of its organizational mandate. And, on the eve of the 2011 Masters of Marketing, Bob Liodice, the association's president/CEO, had more on his mind that the programming for the next few days.

Photo: Rishi Shah/Clarion Pictures

Indeed, one of his promised targets of his opening-session address, is an organization that goes by the seemingly innocuous name of The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a not-for-profit organization contracted by an agency within the United States Department of Commerce to keep track of naming protocol on the Internet.

For years, American digital enterprises largely have operated under .com, .org, and .net and protocols. Governmental agencies are spotted easily by their .gov suffixes and educational institutions by .edu.

But ICANN seeks to open up the coding to hundreds of new domain names, with many more to follow in the years ahead. As Liodice challenged, "Imagine Web sites that end with generic terms like '.bank,' geographic terms like '.paris,' brand names such as '.hitachi'."

And, Liodice charged, the "ill-conceived practice" has the potential "to seriously disrupt businesses and threaten consumers, causing significant and completely avoidable harm to the fragile U.S economy."

The actual implementation is scheduled for January, 2012, when, according to the ANA president/CEO, "applicants will be able claim virtually any word – generic or branded – as an Internet top-level domain".

At first blush, he allowed, some marketers may welcome the chance to reinforce the memorability of its digital home. But the ANA – as well as the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the American Advertising Federation, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the Direct Marketing Association, the World Federation of Advertisers and "a number of other international associations – are vehemently opposed to this plan, which will require excessive, unnecessary business expense, increase online confusion and diminish cybersecurity."

How dire would the program be? Liodice claimed that "is could set back our nation's economic recovery – the last thing government policies should be doing at this troubling time in U.S. global economic health."

He specifically cited online confusion, fraud and abuse: "Many of us have personally given up our valuable, personally identifiable information to a spammer trying to impersonate a trusted credit-card brand. Or we have all received spam promoting Web sites where drugs are sold illegally to a vulnerable segment of the population."

With a massively expanded universe of Internet addresses, "a spammer could impersonate a national bank." Whereas or would already have a legitimate connection to the financial institution that bears its name, Liodice offered that "citi.sanfrancisco,, citi.retail or any other number of potential permutations and combinations could be imagined."

In his Friday morning address to the annual ANA convention, Liodice planned to address "five major reasons" not to pursue the ICANN open-domain plan needs to be stopped now:

  • Flawed Justification: ICANN suggests that a shortage of Internet addressed constricts digital growth. Liodice countered that the argument is "deeply flawed…. The program will throw the domain-name universe into widespread confusion while generating untold costs to domestic and international businesses and harm to consumers."
  • Excessive Cost: According to Liodice, applying for a new top-level domain name will require an "extraordinarily expensive registration" fee of $185,000, as well as a minimum cost of $25,000 paid annually to ICANN over the 10-year contractual commitment that successful applicants must make. "Some have estimated that, for a typical company, the cost of acquiring a single top-level domain and managing it over the initial commitment of 10 years could easily exceed $2 million, including expenses for the application process, operations, disputes, legal services, trademark monitoring and protection," Liodice said.
  • Consumer Harm: Said the ANA head: "The Internet will turn into a veritable minefield for criminal activity…. The ICANN program will exacerbate the already challenging problem of protecting consumers from online confusion and unlawful invasion of their personal privacy, diminish cybersecurity and increase the likelihood of predatory cyber harm."
  • Harm to Non-Profit Organizations: After Hurricane Katrina, "there were some 4,000 bogus websites for online donations." Similar frauds have followed natural disasters all over the world, with digital pirates falsely claiming connection to people in need.

The ICANN program," Liodice concluded, "would act like a lone cowboy with no oversight, only giving lip service to the U.S. Department of Commerce and other governments worldwide…. If its new program proceeds, the full damage to brand equity and trust in Internet transactions will be incalculable."