Don’t Let Those Promotional Microsites Become Porn

When you buy a domain name for your next bank or credit union promotion, buy more than one year. Buy at least two. Better yet, buy three. At a cost of $30, there’s no excuse. When your promotion is over, put up a parking page or redirect visitors to your main website. Otherwise, this is what could happen to you…

In the fall of 2007, TIAA-CREF rolled out a massive branding campaign celebrating the financial institution’s .org web address, TIAA-CREF, which stands for “Teachers Insurance & Annuity Association – College Retirement Equities Fund,” felt that playing up its .org URL would draw attention to its status as a nonprofit cooperative (a sensitive discussion credit unions have quite often).


Advertising examples from TIAA-CREF’s campaign touting the organization’s nonprofit dot-org-ness, with lines like “O-R-G, three of the most trusted letters found after a dot on the whole World Wide Web.” There’s also a TV spot you can watch. All the ads had the web address splattered all over them.

So TIAA-CREF’s ad agency created a microsite to support the campaign,, as ad agencies so often do these days, then plastered the URL on every piece. In some ads, “The PowerOf.Org” is even the headline.

You can get a general sense of what the microsite looked like in 2008 by clicking here. But when TIAA-CREF’s domain was due to expire in 2009, someone must have either ignored the renewal notice or decided it simply wasn’t important to purchase another year.

Peter Basler, an enterprising pornographer, was paying attention, however, and snatched up the URL. Today, the website looks quite different. Basler has turned the once-reputable site into a live online sex chat portal.


Reality Check: TIAA-CREF is one of the largest financial services companies in the world, managing over $400 billion in assets. They can afford the measly $10 a year it would take to keep their unused microsite URLs within their control.

There are literally thousands of people like Peter Basler waiting to scoop up URLs abandoned by companies who naively believed they only needed their domains for the length of their promotions. But after these companies wrap up their temporary initiatives and their domains expire, they leave behind established web addresses with valuable backlinks that spammers, pornographers and other nefarious types covet.

There is one sliver of good news for TIAA-CREF: Basler’s expires again in September, so maybe they can get it back.

Postscript: Some might argue that it doesn’t much matter if a few stragglers stumble into a porn microsite after your promo is over. Who cares? Well, for starters, your customer, Mr. Jones, will have much to explain to Mrs. Jones when she spies a sex chat website on his computer; instead of finding the financial information he wanted, he gets an earful from his now-distrusting spouse. Do you think he’ll hold a grudge against you? You bet. But for $10, you can spare your brand and the Joneses ugly embarrassments.

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