Commentary

What's In a Name? RDA Rebrands as Trusted Media

After almost a century (93 years, to be precise) as the Reader’s Digest Association, the publisher of the iconic magazine -- and the world’s first media aggregator -- is getting a new identity as Trusted Media Brands, the company announced Monday.

The new name is supposed to reflect the publisher’s transition into a digital media company, de-emphasizing its longtime flagship brand in favor of its full portfolio of properties. In addition to Reader’s Digest, the company also owns Taste of Home, Simple & Delicious, The Family Handyman, Country, Country Woman, Birds & Blooms, Farm & Ranch Living, Reminisce, EnrichU, The Taste Network and Haven Home Media.

Trusted Media Brands president and CEO Bonnie Kintzer explained: “The company has undergone a complete turnaround and transformation over the past 24 months. We've changed our business model to connect with consumers across all brands and through a variety of channels where readers want to engage. As we head toward our century milestone, it's appropriate that our new company name reflects the culmination of those changes and the entity we have become – a modern, visionary, brand-driven multiplatform media business.”

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As always with these events, you kind of have to wonder what changing a thing’s name really achieves. Consumers don’t have much of a connection or awareness with corporate identities, as their main relationships tend to be with the individual brands.

So presumably the rebranding is intended mostly for advertisers and agencies, as a move to raise the profile of Trusted Media’s other brands and new media capabilities.

But can a new name really convey all that?

Considering some other major corporate media rebrandings, for example Clear Channel’s reinvention as iHeartMedia or CBS Outdoor’s new incarnation as Outfront Media, it seems like the trend is moving away from distinctive identities rooted in corporate history, and towards names that are very general to the point of being, well, meaningless. The addition of the word “media” is the kicker -- an all-encompassing term that allows them to lay claim, at least in theory, to all sorts of cutting edge digital media platforms as part of their brand identities.

As iHeartMedia CEO Bob Pittman told the NYT about the company’s rebranding last year: ““To capture all these concepts and still call it the legacy name really is a disservice to what we are and what people here have built. So we’ve taken our biggest national brand, our newest brand, our most digital brand, and made that the name of the company.”

Those claims are often more aspirational than actual, however. At the time, the NYT noted that digital was still a “fraction” of iHeartMedia’s total business, and eMarketer analyst Paul Verna offered this forecast: “I don’t think there is an opportunity to scale that up to the billions or create a whole new paradigm that supersedes their other business.”

In other words, iHeartMedia is still basically a radio company, and Trusted Media Brands is still a magazine publisher.

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