This post reflects my own personal views.
The Problem with Booking.yeah
When Booking.com decided to launch its first branded campaign 3 years ago, it wanted to differentiate itself from its counterparts in their increasingly competitive travel industry. With dozens of travel and accommodation comparison sites to choose from, consumers have no shortage of options. So how do you get a potential customer to choose your site over a competitor’s? Most of the leaders in this space spend millions of dollars every year on advertising, battling for your attention in an attempt to stay top of mind. In doing so, most of the major players have developed campaigns based around a memorable character – we have the Travelocity Roaming Gnome, Hotel.com’s Captain Obvious and the “Trivago Guy”.
Rather than following the mould built by their competitors, Booking.com created a memorable campaign of their own while avoiding the branded character approach. Their campaign, Booking.yeah, was developed to transform the word “booking” from a purely transactional action, to one of “sheer, unbridled joy and satisfaction when you open the door to your accommodation and know you’ve got it right”. As a concept, it works. Was it memorable? Absolutely. I’d be shocked if you’re reading this right now and the phrase “Booking.yeah” doesn’t ring a bell. How about the execution? Great. The video spots were high quality, clever, funny, and a little bit weird – the perfect combination for a memorable campaign.
My issue with the Booking.yeah campaign
The Booking.yeah campaign must be working well for Booking.com. They first developed this campaign all the way back in 2013 and they are still using it to this day. But I can’t stand it. It bothers me so much, and here’s why. To me, Booking.yeah is one of the worst marketing campaigns from a domain name strategy perspective. Let’s take a step back here. Around the same time this campaign launched, ICANN (the not-for-profit organization responsible for managing domain name extensions around the world) approved the release of over 1000 new domain name extensions into the market (known as gTLDs). You’ve likely noticed a few of these popping up – .guru, .xyz, .club, .news, .tech, etc. Before that, most websites lived on .com, .net, .ca, etc. But now, website owners had a whole new world of domain name extension to play with. These new gTLDs offer companies the opportunity to expand their domain name portfolio, protect their brand, and get creative with campaign based domains like Booking.yeah.
.yeah doesn’t exist
Yup, that’s right. The .yeah domain name extension isn’t even a thing. This is the part that baffles me. All of their ads in this campaign close with the tagline “Booking.com. Booking.yeah”. That is their call to action. It’s not a stretch to think that people would try to type this into their browser thinking that it is their domain name. When I first tweeted about my issue with this campaign, a few of my followers agreed that they were confused by the campaign tagline.
Booking.yeah might be the worst new gTLD marketing campaign ever, especially since .yeah isn’t a real gTLD. Talk about confusing your users.
— Jason Faber (@Jason_Faber) August 24, 2016
Not only does .yeah not exist, but it doesn’t appear as if it is coming soon based on ICANN’s list of upcoming domain name extensions. Furthermore, it doesn’t appear as if Booking.com event owns bookingyeah.com, or anything related to this campaign. They have, however, applied for the .booking domain name extension, presumably to run sites like flights.booking, vacation.booking, hotels.booking, etc. While this is a great strategy, it’s completely in contrast to their booking.yeah campaign, which they have spent the last 3 years investing in. As a marketer, this all makes my head hurt.
The problem with new gTLDs
The recent wave of new gTLDs has turned the domain name market on its head. Registrars are scrambling to market and sell thousands of new products, legacy registries are fighting to hold on to market share, and consumers – well, I think that most consumers are either confused or completely in the dark. If you don’t work in the domain name, web, or tech industries, you might not have any idea that this is going on. A lot of non-techie people that I’ve spoken to think that .co is a typo on .com. That’s not good if you own yourbrandname.co.
I was recently out with a friend buying some beer and I noticed that one of local breweries had secured their brand name on a .beer domain name extension, and had it proudly printed on the label. “Oh, that’s cool” I said, pointing it out. My friend stared at the can, read the domain name ending in .beer, and responded “What the hell is that?”. “That’s their website” I told him. He continued to stare, confused. “What do you mean?”. He didn’t get it – even after I told him that it was their website, he didn’t understand the concept of the new gTLDs. And I don’t blame him. He’s used to the .ca’s and .com’s of the world. To him, brewery.beer had absolutely no meaning.
Concluding my rant
While I’m sure that over time consumers will get used to some of these new gTLDs, creating and using a fake, non-existent TLD in your marketing campaigns is a terrible idea. It causes confusion and pokes holes in your funnel. Sure, if you Google “booking.yeah” you’re going to get a good amount of listings, both paid and organic, for the actual Booking.com. But don’t be fooled – in order to secure these organic rankings, I’m willing to bet that Booking.com has had to invest heavily in SEO. And on the paid front, you better believe that their competitors are also bidding on this keyword, driving up the cost to own these AdWords positions (see Expedia.com). So, in conclusion, if you’re thinking of doing something cheeky with domain names on your next marketing campaign, take booking.yeah as an example of what not to do.