“In it to pin it.” That’s the tagline that adorns retailer Urban Outfitters’ Pinterest profile. Pinterest, the social image bookmarking site that lets users create “boards” around certain categories and “pin” images from around the Web, has recently seen its popularity among Internet users skyrocket. The site has topped 25 million visits per week making it the fifth most popular social media site, according to Experian Hitwise, ahead of both LinkedIn and Google+.
In fact, in February Pinterest became the fastest standalone website to reach 10 million unique monthly visitors, according to comScore. One of the consequences of the astounding growth of the site (it only really began gaining popularity in the summer of 2011), was that even its creators seemed unable to keep up. The WHOIS record for the domain name Pinterest.com actually lists “Cold Brew Labs, Inc.” as the registrant. Moreover, the founders have had trouble keeping up with the demands of brand owners when it comes to copyright and trademark infringement.
Increase in traffic to Pinterest.com, according to Compete [+]
Brand owners are increasingly taking notice of Pinterest, and beginning to explore its potential as a marketing platform. Unlike other social networks like Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest allows users to see a product as it was displayed on another website, such as a retail site, and then click straight through to that site. So brands can build boards to display their products and give followers a quick and easy way to learn more about, and ultimately purchase, those products. And when other Pinterest users repin those pinned products, they become instant brand ambassadors to spread the word about those products to their own networks.
Because Pinterest has such interesting potential for brand owners, FairWinds decided to take a look at which fashion brands are truly “in it to pin it” by examining which had registered their brands as Pinterest usernames.
FairWinds opted to look into the presence of fashion brands on Pinterest for two reasons. First, fashion is one of the industries for which Pinterest is ideally suited, along with the crafts industry, the home décor industry, and other industries that produce visual media. The fashion industry is particularly well suited for Pinterest because these brands can use the site as a platform to display their products: a clothing brand can create a board to display its line of summer dresses, or a shoe brand can showcase the standout styles from its holiday collection. Luxury designer Michael Kors is a great example of a fashion brand using Pinterest to effectively share its products in a way that incorporates social elements. See the screen shot.
The other reason we focused on fashion brands is because one of FairWinds’ managing partners, Josh Bourne, was invited to deliver a presentation about user name squatting on Pinterest to the American Apparel and Footwear Association’s (AAFA) Brand Protection Council. Because the AAFA is comprised of leading clothing, footwear, and retail brands, FairWinds decided to investigate which of the major brands in those sectors had registered their corresponding usernames on Pinterest. So, for example, for the clothing brand Polo, we checked the username “Polo” (http://pinterest.com/polo/) and for H&M, the retailer, we checked username “HandM” (http://pinterest.com/handm/).
In total, we looked at 285 brands’ usernames: 137 clothing brands, 96 footwear brands, and 52 retail brands. We derived this list from a variety of sources around the Internet, including the list of top-selling apparel and footwear brands on various online retail sites the most “Liked” apparel and footwear brands on Facebook, and Store Magazine’s list of top retailers.
FairWinds categorized each brand’s corresponding Pinterest username as either registered by a third party, registered by the brand, or not yet registered (available). Of the 285 brands, only 75 had registered their Pinterest usernames, equating to 26.32 percent. Over half, or 59.65 percent, of the brands’ corresponding Pinterest usernames had been registered by third parties, and the remaining 14.03 percent, 40 names in total, were still available for registration.
These figures were fairly consistent across apparel, footwear, and retail brands. Among apparel brands, 60.6 percent of usernames had been registered by a third party, while 28.5 percent had been registered by the corresponding brand. Only 10.9 percent of the 137 brand names were still available. Similarly, only 19.8 percent of footwear brand names were still available, as 13.5 percent had been registered by the brand and 66.7 percent had been registered by third parties. Retail brands showed a slightly different trend: only 44.25 percent of the 52 brand names had been registered by third parties, while 42.25 percent belonged to the brands. The remaining 11.5 percent were still available.
The fashion industry is unique in many ways, of course, but for the purposes of this Perspectives, what sets apparel, footwear and retail brands apart is that many of them use people’s names or surnames as their brand names –usually the names of the designers that launched those brands. So when a username like “Ann Taylor” (http://pinterest.com/anntaylor/) is registered to a third party, there is a chance that that user (pictured in the screen shot, right, with her face blurred to protect her privacy) is actually named Ann Taylor and therefore has just as much right to the username as the clothing brand. Other usernames, like “Chloe” and “Macys” appear to correspond to part of the registered user’s name, such as a first name, last name, or first name with last initial.
FairWinds predicted that this naming trend within the fashion industry would have an impact on these results. In other words, we predicted that a higher percentage of these brand names would have been registered by third parties on Pinterest, as compared to brand names in other industries. So to see how these brands stacked up against another potent list of top brands that span multiple industries, we also checked the 100 brands listed in Interbrand’s 2011 list of the best global brands.
In testing our hypothesis, we discovered that, when it comes to Pinterest usernames, the fashion industry actually isn’t that unique. Of Interbrand’s 100 best global brands, only 28 had registered their brand names as usernames, while 68 brand names had been registered by third parties. These brands were on par with the fashion brands in our study in terms of the percentage of usernames registered by third parties. While at first glance it appeared that four Interbrand usernames were available, we learned that Pinterest apparently reserved these names, so in reality none were still available.
Pinterest Registrations among Fashion Brands versus Interbrand's Top 100 Brands [+]
One possible explanation for this username infringement trend is that Pinterest simply grew too quickly for brands to keep up. It can be quite a challenge to keep up with all the emerging new social media platforms that come to market, and it can be even harder for brands to determine which of those platforms are worth brands’ time reserving their usernames in.
For many brand owners, it probably seems like Pinterest came out of nowhere – the speed with which it went from obscurity to widespread user adoption made it difficult for brand owners to get out ahead of the field and reserve their usernames. But in a sense, the Pinterest case can serve as a cautionary tale for brand owners, and as a reminder of the importance of proactively registering trademark-protecting and business-enabling usernames in new social media technologies early.
Social media usernames, in contrast with domain names, lend themselves to this “better safe than sorry” approach of brands registering as many usernames as they want to, primarily because of cost – or lack thereof. Setting up a social media account is, at least on most platforms, free. Even though registering a domain name may only cost around $10, that cost can begin to add up quickly, considering that brands need to pay to renew that registration every year. The financial impact alone is enough to lead brand owners to take a different strategic approach to usernames than they take in registering domain names.
Similarly, if a third party registers a domain name containing a trademarked name, the owner of that trademark can theoretically look up who that third party is by consulting WHOIS records, and if necessary, can file for arbitration under a universally recognized system to attempt to reclaim that domain name. Social media usernames, on the other hand, have no such directory or universal arbitration process. Each platform has its own rules and regulations, and its own system through which trademark owners can file petitions to reclaim their names, and the results of these processes are often varied and unpredictable. Pinterest, for example, only implemented its Trademark Complaint form earlier this spring.
All of these differences make social media usernames apt for an aggressive registration strategy for brand owners. And while recovering social media usernames is definitely possible, it can be a tricky process and it usually takes practice to familiarize one’s self with the different policies of each platform. Instead a proactive approach is the best choice. When the task of staying abreast of all the emerging social media technologies and determining which will become the next big thing, becomes overwhelming, brand owners should choose an adept partner to help them execute on this strategy of reserving their brand names as usernames.
Sign up to receive emails from FairWinds.
Sign up to receive RSS News feeds.
1000 Potomac Street NW, Suite 350 | Washington, DC 20007