23andMe.com “Reinventing the way you look at ancestry”
Have you noticed more and more commercials on television advertising DNA test kits for genealogy and family history? Besides the plethora of AncestryDNA commercials extoling various finds so earth shattering that you’d trade in your lederhosen for a kilt, there’s a new ad from 23andMe which aired starting this week:
With Mark Wahlberg, of PBS’ Antiques Roadshow fame as host, here is a transcript of the 30-second commercial:
Wahlberg: “When it comes to finding out about family and ancestors, we might look at old portraits and photographs, or sift through historical documents, or even search through public records. But now, there’s another way. 23andMe is reinventing the way you look at your ancestors using the science of genetics: your DNA. With just a small saliva sample, you’ll learn about your ancestry through your 23 pairs of chromosomes that make you who you are. With 23andMe.com, you could find out your percentages of the DNA from 31 populations around the world. You can even see how much DNA you have in common with family or family. And, if you want, you can find DNA relatives – those people who share some of your DNA and choose to message them. With 23andMe, you can experience your ancestry in a whole new way.”
Voiceover: “Order your DNA kit today. To receive 23andMe’s ancestry service available now for $99 at 23andMe.com.”
Is a DNA Test Kit Now the Easy Button for Genealogy?
As a genealogist who has been researching ancestors before the advent of the Internet, I have to say it does irk me that the new 23andMe commercial appears to offer up DNA testing as a “substitute” for tried and true methods of research. At least they didn’t state “there’s a better way.” I’m hoping that anyone who takes a DNA test for genealogy research purposes will pursue further research rather than simply enter a revolving door. The tendency is to believe that the DNA test results are an adequate substitute for traditional genealogy research.
What the newcomers won’t realize—or will realize much later— is that there is much more to family history than a new-fangled test. Once people are in this revolving door, we need to make sure they stay and start exploring family stories, photographs and source documents to build a solid genealogical foundation.
And Did You Get the “Dig” at Ancestry?
Look closely at the closing screen on the commercial above? 23andMe clearly states “no subscription fees” to set itself apart from AncestryDNA’s push to cross-sell its customers a subscription to Ancestry.com. What the entry-level or novice would not know from the commercial is that there are not many genealogy research tools at 23andMe as compared to Ancestry and that 23andMe testers rely solely upon community connections for research. Those of us who’ve been at this for years understand that, yes, Ancestry is using its DNA tests as an entry point for those who are “curious” in the genealogy market; however, an Ancestry subscription can help facilitate a more rewarding experience when it comes to tracing one’s roots.
The Interesting Use of the Term “Ancestry” in DNA Marketing
If you listen closely to the commercial, you will hear the term “ancestry” used several times. As I listened, I was curious as to the status of the Ancestry trademark. Thanks to Dick Eastman, here is some clarification on using the term “ancestry”: AncestryDNA filed a trademark complaint against DNA Diagnostics Center, Inc. (”DDC”) for using the term “AncestrybyDNA” which it had done since 2002. The Federal District court ruled that since Ancestry entered the DNA market almost ten years later (2012), that is usage was “junior” to that of DDC.
According to the latest quarterly report from Ancestry.com dated 30 June 2016, they have filed an appeal and a decision is pending:
“On November 16, 2015, Ancestry.com Operations Inc. and Ancestry.com DNA, LLC (collectively “Ancestry”) filed a complaint against DNA Diagnostic Center, Inc. (“DDC”) in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio for trademark infringement, unfair competition, false advertising, and breach of contract (Case No. 1:15-cv-00737-SSB-SKB). Ancestry’s claims relate to DDC’s unauthorized use of Ancestry’s registered Ancestry and AncestryDNA trademarks in its advertisements for a competing product and its use of close variations of Ancestry’s registered trademarks, which Ancestry contends has created consumer confusion. Ancestry’s claims are also based upon DDC’s breach of a prior agreement with Ancestry that it would cease the allegedly infringing conduct and false advertising. On January 19, 2016, DDC filed its Answer to Ancestry’s Complaint and filed several Counterclaims, including Counterclaims for trademark infringement, unfair competition, and for cancellation of Ancestry’s registered AncestryDNA trademark. DDC’s Counterclaims are based upon its use and registration of the mark AncestryByDNA, notwithstanding Ancestry’s prior use of the Ancestry trademark since 1983. Ancestry moved to dismiss several of DDC’s Counterclaims and that motion to dismiss is pending. On March 7, 2016, DDC also amended its Counterclaims to add a request to cancel a trademark registration Ancestry owns for “Ancestry,” which was issued in 1990. Ancestry has also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction on its claims, the preliminary injunction hearing was held on January 29, 2016 before the Magistrate Judge, and DDC has filed an opposition to the motion. On February 16, 2016, the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation granted Ancestry’s motion in part, enjoining DDC from using the trademarks “Ancestry,” “Ancestry DNA” and/or “DNA Ancestry.” On April 25, 2016, the District Judge issued an order reversing the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation and denied the motion for preliminary injunction. On May 6, 2016, Ancestry appealed the District Judge’s order to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and the appeal is currently pending. While the Company cannot assure the ultimate outcome of this litigation, it does not believe it will be resolved in a manner that would have a material adverse effect on its business.”
In the meantime, it seems to be that everyone is adding, or will soon be adding, the term “ancestry” with “dna” when marketing DNA test kits.
More and more DNA test kit marketing makes the entire process seem like some “parlor game” similar to the Ouija board my family would pull out of the closet (usually after a few adult beverages). A curiosity, fun and good for a few laughs.
Most genealogists and family historians who are serious about research, now that a DNA test kit “adds to” the tried and true methods of research. DNA tests are not “kids’ stuff” or fun and games. An entire sub-industry of the genealogy market has popped up selling everything from test kits, to webinars, to books and other forms of education.
And just like the old Ouija board, those testing purely out of curiosity should make sure they know what they are getting into. Careful what you ask for!
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©2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.
 Eastman, Dick “Ancestry.com Loses a Trademark Case Against DNA Diagnostics Center for the Marketing of “AncestryByDNA,” 3 May 2016 (https://blog.eogn.com/, accessed 4 October 2016) citing “Federal Court Upholds DNA Diagnostics Center’s Use of “Ancestry” for DNA Testing and Rules that Ancestry.com Caused Marketplace Confusion,” press release by DNA Diagnostics Center, Inc. dated 3 May 2016 (https://dnacenter.com/ddc-press-releases.html, accessed 4 October 2016).
 Ancestry. (2016). Quarterly report filed 29 July 2016 for the period ending 30 June 2016 (http://www.ancestry.com/corporate/investor-relations, accessed 4 October 2016.