Just how bad was the decision by Los Angeles Times parent Tribune Publishing to rebrand itself Tronc — short for “Tribune online content”? (It uses a lower case “t,” but we capitalize proper nouns.)
The initial consensus: Pretty bad. Twitter users widely and roundly mocked the clunky, pretentious, and just plain ridiculous sounding new name, which takes effect June 20. Mashable captured some of the best tweets.
“It hit all of the wrong things on what would create an impactful new name,” says Matthew Quint, director of the Columbia Business School’s Center on Global Brand Leadership. “It’s created something that is laughable. If it’s [short for] ‘Tribune online content,’ then why isn’t it Tronco?”
Chairman Michael Ferro, who took control in February, made a bad situation worse by describing the new brand and corporate mission with vague, jargon-laden mumbo-jumbo. He said Tronc “is focused on leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve the user experience and better monetize our world-class content in order to deliver personalized content to our 60 million monthly users and drive value for all of our stakeholders.”
Quint suspects that Ferro made the changes to put his stamp on the company — especially as it fights an uninvited acquisition effort by Gannett.
(On that score, Tribune shares were up 17.7% today on reports that Gannett hasn’t given up on its $864 million offer. The USA Today owner seemed to have been defeated last week when it failed to persuade owners of a majority of Tribune shares to show symbolic support for a deal by withholding their votes for its directors. The official tally, out today, shows that a majority of those who aren’t company insiders withheld.)
Ferro may have seen Tronc as “the stamp of an outsider,” Quint says. “I created a weird name. I’m lower-casing it. It’s completely non-traditional. It’s smack in the face of all you media folks who don’t understand what you’re doing yet.”
But Quint and other marketing experts say Tronc won’t necessarily go down as a marketing disaster on the level of New Coke, or Ayds Diet Candy — or even the much maligned original name Netflix used in 2011 for its DVD-only service: Qwikster.
“What matters over time is how they invest in the brand — a new logo, brand communications, advertising, and solidifying the brand image in our minds,” says Boston College business professor Gerald Smith, author of a new book about marketing strategies called The Opt Out Effect. “Eventually we may get used to this and say that Tronc is a great brand name.”
That’s what seemed to happen after 2000 when Bell Atlantic bought GTE and changed its name to Verizon. “That was a risky and gutsy move,” he says. “Imagine having a name today like Bell Atlantic.”
It’s also why he believes Tribune needed to change its name, even if Tronc “sounds weird.”
“A lot of newspaper brands are suffering. If they’re a commoditized newspaper brand, then they will suffer and there’ll be no salvation for them.”
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