Friday, March 03, 2006

Immutable Laws of DTC Domain Naming

My friend RJ Lewis wrote a column entitled "The importance of a Name" that recently appeared in Product Management Today. His premise is: "Choosing and capitalizing on a memorable domain name for a pharmaceutical product may very well be the most important on-line marketing strategy."
In this new age of educational DTC, marketers must think of newer variations of generic terms to create such domain names as (AstraZeneca Wilmington, DE), (Eli Lilly, Indianapolis), and (Bristol-Myers Squibb, Princeton, NJ). -- RJ
I also just happen to be reading the book "The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding" by Al and Laura Ries. The book also includes "The 11 Immutable Laws of Internet Branding" as a "bonus."

These two expert sources could not be further apart from one another! The Ries' lambast "generic" domain names and claim that "one of the reasons for the dotcom disaster is the almost universal use of common-name Websites." They cite some examples:

  • etc.
The Ries' propose that "the mind treats a generic or common word as the name for a category of things, not as one particular thing or brand." They often ask the reader to imagine conversations like this:

"Where did you learn about depression online?"

"Depression Hurts."

"I know it does, but what's the name of the site?"

"Depression Hurts."

"OK. Let's go home. Everything will be fine!"

RJ cites an example of a Philadelphia couple selling generic domain names such as for millions of dollars. He's implying that these names have value for pharmaceutical marketers who should register generic names relevant to their products before a bum with $10 from Hoboken does!

Well, I'm no bum from Hoboken, but I thought I'd give it a shot.

First, I looked at some other generic depression names like (I think this is closer to what depressed people must feel about depression than depression hurts). Unfortunately, that name is already registered by a David Butler from Bowie, MD. Evidently, David registered this domain name way back in 2002 in the hopes that Eli Lilly would buy it. Sucker! Lilly spent about 30 seconds coming up with another name that no-one had yet claimed; hence,

Undeterred, I tried and Bingo! That's available. I bought it. Lilly, you can have it for $295! (I don't expect a lot of money for this one because it violates one of the Ries' immutable laws: it's too long!)

Another pharma-owned DTC generic domain name I like is, which is GSK's site about erectile dysfunction. At first, when I was doing research for this post, I mistyped the URL and ended up on And Lo and Behold! was at the top of's "Sponsored Links for Impotence." This is very disturbing because other sponsored links include "Solid Erections In Minutes" and a Mexican online pharmacy. Thinking the link was a spoof, I clicked it and wouldn't you know? It lead me directly to the genuine GSK site! Obviously, GSK or one of their agents is paying to be on this sleazy site! is registered to Bill Swartwout out of Baltimore, MD. (seems a lot of these questionable sites originate in MD).

Next I tried It turns out that Bill also owns that. So I tried, which is owned by Andy Tran in Orange, CA.

Crap! All the good generic names are taken (even!

So, what's my point? I don't know, except that my research turned up one interesting tidbit and a question: GSK, why are you advertising on the sleazy Website? Are generic domain names that important to your eMarketing Strategy?


  1. Anonymous2:45 PM

    Your point is both humorous and sad -- and further evidence of a "bait-and-switch" strategy to use unbranded disease education as a way to move consumers to branded selling. the exception is when unbranded proeprties are created for drugs in pre-launch.

    What is sad is that consumers -- desperate for information -- fall for it. Yet I have seen online advertising test results that while condition-sufferers do click on unbranded more than branded messages, it was proven that if they landed on a branded site, registration and site engagement was better than if they landed on an unbranded property.

    But more to the point is that this is a marketing game not disease education. Why can't a brand stand for education and use its own name? Why hide? Consumers are already suspicious enough, and this only creates more cynicism.

    Of course, there are exceptions -- Takeda's sleep center on WebMD is very good at being open and educational about insomina and treatment; is also very good.

    Unfortunately, the burgeoning use of unbranded url's seems like another effort to manipulate DTC guidelines rather than service patients better.

  2. Anonymous9:54 AM

    Speaking of sleazy -- try going to -- it brings you to the Nexium website! Which just underscores the complete lack of difference between the two drugs.

  3. Anonymous1:07 PM

    So, what's my point? I don't know, except that my research turned up one interesting tidbit and a question: GSK, why are you advertising on the sleazy Website? Are generic domain names that important to your eMarketing Strategy?

    GSK is fairly blameless here ... I believe their ad was automatically syndicated to the site in question by Google. Google's algorithms scan the content on a given site/page and place an advertiser's ads based on a perceived contextual fit.

    It works 90% of the time and backfires, typically, either (a) when site owners game the system with spam content (like this one appears to have done), or (b) when the algorithm fails to understand the content it's scanning (e.g. putting ads for rice recipes on a page actually about author Anne Rice).

    Since Google won't tell advertisers where their ads are appearing, it's hard to blame GSK for this situation. Instead, I'd argue that Google needs to be more vigilant about what publishers they choose to work with. Since, in this specific case, the site has framed content from still another site, you can see how difficult even basic monitoring would be.

    Related topic for another day, John: why do pharma marketers sometimes allow their media agencies to do so-called "ad network" buys? They lose control over where their ads are shown (often very seedy sites) and often won't even be told where their ads might show up.

  4. Anonymous3:57 PM

    Wish we could trust brands to provide education, but we can't; the motivation is too strong not to offer data that conflict with messaging. Maybe we should award icons to thorough and unbiased consumer-ed sites....

  5. If the conversation instead went like so:

    "Where did you learn about depression online?"
    "DepressionHurts dot Com"
    "Thanks. That's great. I'll check it out ASAP"

    Then all would be well.

    The harsh reality is that branded sites such as,, etc. are simply NOT trusted to tell the truth.

    The generic sites have far more credibility than corporate controlled site even when many of them are under the control of corporations.


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