Name Game: Time Inc. Considers Rebranding

To paraphrase Shakespeare: “What’s in a name? Will rebranding reverse the long-term decline in print ad revenue or boost digital ad sales?”

OK, maybe the original version was more elegant. But it’s a good question, and one that has returned. The Wall Street Journal reports Time Inc. is considering adopting a new name.

There are no details on what new monikers are under consideration, or how likely a rebrand is. But just the idea of the country’s largest magazine publisher changing its iconic name is enough to cause a bit of controversy — at least in the insular world of legacy media.

Time Inc. took its name from the flagship newsweekly launched by Henry Luce in 1923. That title, in turn, was the product of a great deal of thought and discussion by Luce and his collaborators, with some ideas more stirring than others.

According to an entertaining account published in Vanity Fair in 2010, the list included “Facts,” “What’s What,” “Destiny,” “Chance,” and “The Synthetic Review.” Luce apparently settled on the final title after seeing an ad or announcement on the New York City subway bearing the tagline: “Time For A Change.”



Now it may be time for a change again.

The company’s marketing experts are hopefully taking a close look at the recent history of rebrandings by other publishers and media companies. Some have sailed through to general applause or at least acceptance.

Others… well, not so much. 

Among the better efforts, back in 2015, the Reader’s Digest Association adopted a new name after 93 years, rechristening itself Trusted Media Brands. Although it might not be the flashiest name, it seemed like a sensible move.

The publisher sought to emphasize its other big media brands, in addition to the flagship magazine. They include Taste of Home and Family Handyman, while also communicating the basic consumer value proposition uniting the brands.

Falling in the more middling range of recent publisher rebrandings is Digital First Media. That's the business name assumed by newspaper publisher MediaNews Group as it was rolled up with several other regional newspaper groups and became a management company back in 2012.

At the time, the new name communicated management’s commitment to remaking the business. But it already seems dated, as pretty much everyone in the industry now espouses the “digital-first” philosophy.

Also in the middling range is “Oath,” the new company recently formed by the merger of AOL and Yahoo, under the auspices of Verizon. It’s nice and short, which is a big plus, and it embraces the vowel-heavy vibe of both antecedent companies. It also actually means something, which isn’t a given with rebrandings (see below).

But this heavy Germanic word has a vaguely feudal, hierarchical feel; it doesn’t match the future-looking ethos the company wants to espouse. Also, it has another meaning as a curse, swear word, blasphemy or profanity — which may be a good thing nowadays.

Then there are some rebrandings that might be classified as head-scratchers.

This category includes Tegna, the broadcast TV company formed when Gannett Co. split up its newspaper and TV businesses. The thinking behind the new name seems to have been… well, honestly it’s not clear, since the name is completely meaningless.

True, it incorporates all the letters of “Gannett,” paying homage to its corporate lineage, but on the down side, it also sounds like a portmanteau of “tendon” and “smegma,” or perhaps a new tropical disease.

At the very bottom of the pile for recent rebrandings is, of course, “tronc,” the new name assigned to Tribune Publishing by chairman Michael Ferro, as part of his strategy to deter potential buyers.

In its favor, tronc does stand for something — it’s short for “Tribune Online Content,” or rather “tribune online content.” (Whoever decided it was cool to spell everything in lowercase has a lot of explaining to do — especially to our nation’s valiant copy editors.)

Going against it, the name is completely execrable, an absurd sound whose closest resonance is with an elephant’s proboscis or the word “truncated.” Neither can be said to “sing.” Indeed, the name has the singular honor of being mocked by John Oliver on his show “Last Week Tonight,” surely a low point for corporate rebrandings.

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