This article originally ran in the October 2015 issue of AVN magazine. Click here to see the digital edition.
When monolithic companies make announcements, there are often different theories about why they chose to do something a certain way. Nowhere is that more common than when it comes to Google, the search giant many businesses now rely on for a majority of their best traffic. Recently Google announced it is rebranding itself as Alphabet and utilizing the domain ABC.xyz for its new parent company, in an attempt to spin off its search services division from its other interests in everything from driverless automobiles to DNA testing and more.
Clearly Google had a choice in the decision to use Alphabet as a trading name while selecting ABC.xyz. With its resources, Google could have bought pretty much any domain, or at the very least branded itself with an available .com name for next to nothing. Instead, they went with ABC.xyz, even though
ABC.com and Alphabet.com are already owned by very established brands. So why did they do it, and what impact will it have on other brands? We asked several industry insiders to tell us they think is really going on with the move.
“Google had a choice. Their decision to use Alphabet as a trading name and then selecting ABC.xyz as their primary domain was clever and also relevant,” said Steve Winyard, director and vice president of ICM Registry, owner of the .xxx domain extension. “Many of the new TLDs could be considered pointless as they fail to serve any real purpose in the Internet. In this instance, .xyz is a perfect fit for Alphabet as a play on letters. It is also easy to remember.”
The way Winyard views the move, it’s the next step in an already established pattern. “Google’s investment in the new-domain arena has been significant. The fact they paid over $25 million for .app and have now led with .xyz goes to prove, beyond any doubt, that the future of the internet will be dominated by new domains that have relevance. Consumers will become more aware of new domains and in particular this will lead to a segmentation of content, allowing clearer identification by the use of the TLD. This will certainly apply to adult content. Using .xxx, .porn, .sex and .adult are easy to remember, relevant and clearly identify the content as adult in nature. With over 1,000 TLDs set to be live with sectors being marketed using the choice and labeling power of the TLD, [it] shows we are at the start of a clear shift in the internet and how it serves targeted results to surfers. Billions of dollars has been collectively invested in the new-domain arena and when one of the largest companies on the net makes a statement like this, it’s hard not to pay attention. Any company that has invested in a new domain will have their confidence increased by Google’s decision.”
Others see this as a potential hint of a larger move to come in the near future. “Because Alphabet is going to be the new umbrella corporation for Google, people are wondering if that is how they are planning to buy Twitter,” commented leading social media strategist Lauren MacEwen of 7Veils.com. “There is speculation that with the changes in Google+ and their failure to overtake Facebook, this restructuring paves the way for a Twitter buyout. If you can’t build it, buy it! There is no real talk about an acquisition, only speculation. Funnily enough, they do not own Facebook.com/alphabet or Twitter.com/alphabet, which made the existing owners of the accounts quite happy with their windfall as well.”
Still, in the face of so much hype, cynics remain surprised that this sort of move has generated so much interest when in reality very little has actually changed. “How is this even a question?” asked Justin of GrowThisFast.com. “Google created a holding company so they could do non-Googley things without having to use the Google brand name. I’m happy to help anyone create their own holding company if that’s going to be a hip thing now.”
Experienced marketers also noted that the choice of the new brand might not be the most effective way Google could have gone. “While the announcement of ‘Alphabet’ as the new parent company to Google most likely will not change the actual company or what they do, my feelings toward it aren’t mixed—I outright don’t like the new name,” said Juicy Jay, JuicyAds.com founder and CEO. “I feel that Google has damaged their brand with this move. As a branding expert [JuicyAds won a YNOT Award as Adult Internet Brand of the Year in 2014], I feel that Google has taken their fun and geeky world-dominating tech brand and made it less of what it is by associating it with this new name, which immediately provokes feelings of childhood. Perhaps this was the goal. Just say it out loud, and try using it in context, it just sounds and feels wrong, somehow. Regardless of the move, surely the world will keep turning.”
From Jay’s perspective, “The whole dot-com domain situation is out of control. While I don’t have a problem with people or companies registering domains, I do have a problem with people not using what they register. The constant launch of each new dot-whatever is draining to any company trying to retain their own trademarks and brands, and at the same time, do we really need all of these new domains? Most companies and most consumers will generally gravitate toward typing .com anyway. Domain brokers often say that .net and .org get fewer type-ins. The benefit to non-dot-coms is that they are being registered more and more because of the domain squatters hoarding dot-coms. However, people will follow Google’s move (and already have), causing .xyz to boost in popularity even if purely as speculative buys.”
“I think it does matter more to Google and its shareholders than anyone else,” mused Chad Whermarker of FriendFinder Networks, one of the only publicly traded adult brands. “The restructuring should enable them to more effectively manage the different silos, as well as provide more clarity on financial performance to investors. I don’t believe this change will impact Google’s role in an advertiser’s strategy, so I don’t see either a benefit or negative impact in the short term. If anything, more effectively managing Google proper through increased focus (i.e. new CEO Sundar Pichai) should benefit advertisers over time. A re-org like this should pair better organizational efficiency with that mission and provide benefit to those that spend money to drive demand.”
The looming specter of anti-trust actions hinted at by E.U. authorities and U.S. preliminary investigations may also be playing a role in the self-induced spin-off of Google from Alphabet. “Google is primarily restructuring to address both their impressive diversification and their increasing vulnerability to antitrust suits. Google picked ABC.xyz for the same reason most people choose a secondary TLD—ABC.com was taken and they thought their name would sound good with the .xyz suffix,” opined Amelia G of BlueBlood.com.
“Betting on your one core business, no matter how profitable, is risky,” said Ben Clark, director of Webstream.co.uk, an adult company that similarly is not branded on the .com version of its own company name. “Just ask Microsoft, which has suffered as the internet has eaten into its Windows business. Most of the larger companies have diversified into different areas of business. Amazon, best known for being one of the biggest online retailers, now has also become one of the largest cloud-based server companies in the world.
“In a memo to his staff, Google co-founder Larry Page stated his desire to get the ‘next generation of big bets off the ground’ and warned if Google didn’t pick up the pace it risked becoming irrelevant,” Clark added. “I think what he means by this is technology is revolutionary, not evolutionary. The tech industry moves at a phenomenal rate, as we have seen with our own software products. We have had to continually add new features and redesign our systems to stay ahead of the game and meet our markets’ demands. This move is mostly about spreading their bets and not putting all of their eggs in one basket.”
Lastly, a number of industry people see Google’s past success as a strong reason to give Alphabet the benefit of any doubts. “Larry Page, the CEO of Alphabet Inc., proved his ability to brand the made-up word Google in 1997, and now he will demonstrate the same ability for numerous diverse businesses,” said Shirley Lara, COO of Chaturbate.com. “Alphabet Inc. owns multiple corporate identities that vary from Google.com and Youtube.com to completely unrelated entities like Calico Labs. Making Google part of the brand, not the brand itself, makes good sense and likely would have been the way they would have set it all up originally if they knew ahead of time what they now know about their company in hindsight.”
So, while many of these theories and opinions will take time to be proven right or wrong, one thing is already certain. Having a very strong brand matters. It matters whether you are the world’s best-known brand or a brand-new company … and the amount of discussion taking place over this rebranding is, more than anything else, proof that the Google brand is capable of moving markets and making the world take notice any time they want to, even if just by shuffling around some paperwork on their own legal department’s desk and purchasing a two-dollar .xyz domain name.