The press release arrived in inboxes Thursday afternoon, and within minutes it seemed everyone in media or branding was scoffing at it.
Tribune Publishing Co. (NYSE:TPUB) today announced that the Company will change its name to tronc, Inc., a content curation and monetization company focused on creating and distributing premium, verified content across all channels. tronc, or tribune online content, captures the essence of the Company’s mission. tronc pools the Company’s leading media brands and leverages innovative technology to deliver personalized and interactive experiences to its 60 million monthly users. The name change will become effective on June 20, 2016.
Tribune Publishing Co., based in Chicago, owns some of the oldest and biggest surviving newspapers in the United States, including the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. The company, like the rest of the newspaper industry, has been struggling for years.
And now it faces yet another challenge: a storm of ridicule from journalists, brand consultants, and critical civilians.
Of course, negative response to a rebrand is to be expected. Indeed, most renaming announcements are met with jeers. (Everyone’s a critic.) For my part, I keep theZajonc effect in mind: the tendency of people, after repeated exposure to something they initially disliked, to like the thing more over time. (Zajonc does not rhyme with “tronc”; it rhymes with “science.”)
But, ladies and gentlemen, I am fairly confident that years of exposure will not make me fall in love, or even in like, with tronc. It’s a word that sounds silly at best, ugly at worst, a rhyming cousin of honk, zonk, bonk, and honky-tonk. The lack of capitalization is ridiculous and impractical. (How will, say, the Chicago Tribune, a tronc property, treat the name at the beginning of a sentence?) And it’s a bad portmanteau, a Frankenname soldered together from a heartless DisruptionSpeak buzzword, “online content” (not to mention “premium, verified content”). The story that’s meant to justify it is blistered with other soulless buzzwords: “leverages,” “innovative,” “personalized,” “interactive experiences.”
* Maybe it sounds dandy in Norwegian, the first language of the company’s founders. But the company’s now based in Palo Alto, the site’s in English, and they’re going after Y Combinator funding, so I figure they may be receptive to a little constructive U.S. criticism.
Pay For A Date, an “upcoming online dating platform” based in the UK, is, according to its Twitter bio, “dedicated to the joy of dating where quality, not quantity, is the measure of our dating success.”
Let us briefly imagine the brainstorming session at Polish Eats, of Garfield Heights, Ohio, that led to this travesty.
“WHYYYYYY WHY WHY. Why.” -- K. Sekelesky, via Instagram/Twitter. (“Ditto.” – Fritinancy.)
Now let’s unimagine it, if we can.
Pierogi are Polish dumplings. Sophie’s Choice is the title of a novel by William Styron that became a film starring Meryl Streep as Sophie. The “choice” of the title is an excruciating one: to survive a Nazi death camp, Sophie must sacrifice one of her children.
Let us review:
I don’t care if your beloved founder is named Sophie. I don’t care if she chose the ingredients, the recipe, and the wacky label art. I will not listen to your argument about “choice” being an adjective meaning “of fine quality.” I don’t care if you call it an homage, and I don’t care how you pronounce “homage.”
I definitely won’t listen to arguments about Polish jokes.
Here’s the thing: Literature renders some names off limits. In this case, William Styron got there first, and thanks to him, “Sophie’s Choice” now stands for something horrific.*
Unless you are truly tasteless—a damning thing to say about a food company—you do not get to name your product “Sophie’s Choice.”
If you’re considering a coined name for your company or product, it’s helpful to keep in mind a general rule of English pronunciation: When a vowel precedes a single consonant that’s followed by an e, the first vowel is long. Double the consonant and the vowel becomes shortened.
Later: long a. Latter: short a. Miler: long i. Miller: short i.
Yes, yes, there are exceptions. But coined words are like hoofbeats: we expect a horse, not a zebra. We look for simplicity, not conundrums.
Hoist the bare aluminum pole, my friends: today is Festivus, which means it’s time once again for my favorite holiday tradition, The Airing of Grievances.
For this year’s A of G—the sixth in a series—I’ve gathered some of the worst offenders from the world of marketing: the gaffes, goofs, and boneheaded blunders that we’ll recall for as long as schadenfreude remains in season.