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Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2007 at 8:24 am

Trust Us, We’re No Shady Dot Com!

By Jeffrey Eisenberg
August 15th, 2007

Will you trust a .org more than a .com?


TIAA-CREF thinks you will. Their new advertising campaign created by Modernista emphasizes its status as a nonprofit organization. Their new campaign, starting this week, focuses on a new website,

According to the New York Times article “A Dot-Org Stresses That It’s No Dot-Com“:

“Think .org-onimically,” the headline of a print ad urges. “How much more objective can you get than .o-r-g?” another ad inquires. A third ad declares that “.org” represents “three of the most trusted letters on the Internet.”

In a television commercial, an announcer declares: “We are a financial services dot-org, not a dot-com. For nearly 90 years, our mission has been to put the heart of a nonprofit to work for those who serve the greater good.

“We do this the dot-org way,” the announcer continues, “with low fees, objective advice and a unique insight into the hearts and minds of those who give us hope for the future.” …

I think the campaign has dialed into some powerful emotions about nonprofits that will resonate with their audience. Unfortunately, they’re using the advertising campaign as the driving point to, and that afterthought of a website is the weak link. is a poorly designed website — actually, it’s a mini-site, and part of The scent trails are weak, the navigation is worse, the usability is poor — especially those tiny plus signs for “more-ons” — and the messaging is the usual financial services schpiel with a pixie dust sprinkling of the creative that could have been.

I think TIAA-CREF may be onto something, but I’m not impressed with the execution. Too bad they’ll spend all that money on traffic to a website that won’t deliver the customer experience to match.

What do you think?

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Comments (7)

  1. I’m not certain they’re right that the public perception of what dot-org means is strong enough to base a campaign on. It’s always hard for experts to know what common knowledge is about their subject- I wonder if they surveyed customers to find that out.

    My biggest website ever was dot-org, and was not truly a non-profit… yes, it was started with public serving motives, but I don’t know that the dot-org itself conveyed that. I think it was the brand and the relationship I built with readers.

    Plus, talking about any top level domain just seems nerdy. I’ve learned that talking nerd-speak doesn’t work to well with anyone other than, well… nerds!

  2. Can’t anyone get a dot org site? Many years ago, I thought only non-profits could get dot org extensions, but – come to think of it, I believe I actually bought so that I wouldn’t have any confusion if someone else bought that domain name (my site is, and come to think of it, I really ought to get the .org and .net versions on there!).

    So I think their ads are misleading, and that makes me trust them less.


  3. I just looked at the site – the copy is awful! Did they pay Modernista for that copy? They could’ve done better themselves.

    The idea of a non-profit being more trustworthy is a good one, but it just doesn’t come across at all.


  4. As the new CEO of the .org registry, I was thrilled first to see the NY times story about the TIAA-CREF campaign. I have also followed the discussions about this campaign. I am not in the advertising industry, so I cannot adequately comment on the merits of the site design or colors. Nor do I work for or have any connections to TIAA-CREF, so I can not represent their views. What I can comment on is .org which is squarely in my domain; pardon the pun.

    So let’s address some of the issues folks have speculated on. One that has come up on various discussions is the question” can anyone get a .org name?” and the answer is yes, it is an unrestricted, so anyone can purchase a .org domain. However The TIAA-CREF campaign stresses one fact which we at the .org registry have known for quite some time; .org is seen as a trusted address. We have known this since 2004 based on quantitative customer research we conducted. As a result of the research we championed an educational campaign ( to let legitimate .org domain holders know how to protect their .org domains from opportunists who would other wise snap up the domain and use it in way contrary to the original intent. But the question is why does the public have this positive perception and is it well founded? For that, you would have to know a bit about the company (see

    As the custodians of .org we are a non-profit driven by principles that strive to keep .org a trusted domain and the Internet a vibrant, growing and open space. How?

    1) We have raised awareness of practices which in harming the interests of legitimate organizations mislead the market they serve.

    2) We are active in a number of organizations such as, CFP (Computers, Freedom and Privacy), EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center), CTCNet (Community Technology Centers’ Network), and the Anti-Phishing Working Group ( where we advocate policies for the protection of privacy of personal data and greater awareness in the noncommercial community of the communications power of the Internet.

    3) We have implemented policies (see that aim to raise economic barriers for those who wish to engage in practices which often lead to mis-use of the .org domain name and hence erode public trust.

    How many spam or phishing messages do you get that originate from a .org address? Not many, I would say. So we have and we will continue to protect this domain space and hence earn the respect and trust that internet users have so far accorded a .org address. I applaud TIAA-CREF’s campaign as it shows that large well known organizations are able to build upon brand equity based on the value inherent in a .org address. As I said I am not qualified to comment on any creative aspects of the campaign, but they are on solid ground when they emphasize the value of their .org name as a stable and trusted address.

  5. Alexa – Thank you for the information.

  6. it is my personal opinion that a dot org must stay a dot org. It should be completeley reserved for official non-profit organizations. Infact this was why this name was intended to be

  7. So I think their ads are misleading, and that makes me trust them less. [Tools & Technology]

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Jeffrey Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark. You can friend him on Facebook.

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