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Boy, some people really hate the tronc rebrand

Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The company formerly known as Tribune Publishing — tronc — is already making headlines, but it's not all positive.

Tronc officially launched Monday, but not everyone is happy with the new name. Social media analytics company Spredfast said that since the tronc rebrand was announced on June 2, almost 75 percent of all social media references were negative.

"What they've done is what you might call the nuclear option," said Josh Feldmeth, CEO of branding agency Interbrand North America. "To rename the company is to suggest that everything has changed. It's interesting that they've taken that approach. A name can only do so much."

It also isn't helping that mentions of tronc videos explaining the company's new direction released on Monday are currently polling 63 percent negative and 37 percent positive, according to Spredfast.

"What a disastrous way to launch," said Mark DiMassimo, CEO and chief creative officer of agency DiMassimo Goldstein. "This could be one for the record books."

James Kelly, John E. Wheeler and Joseph K.C. Forrest must surely be spinning in their graves. They co-founded the Chicago Daily Tribune in 1847. It changed its name to the The Tribune Co. in 1861, and is currently housed in the landmark Tribune Tower on Chicago's famous Michigan Avenue. The company then changed its name to Tribune Publishing in 2014.

The promotional videos for tronc rely on stock images, advertising and media buzzwords, and commonly used filmmaking techniques to explain that the new tronc will be combining media and technology. The clips are being compared to HBO's "Silicon Valley" parody promo clips for the fake company "Pied Piper," while others questioned whether they are an Adult Swim spoof. (A tronc spokesperson confirmed they are real. The company did not provide any further comment.)

"It's just so over the top in all of those dimensions that only the completely irony-free will be able to get through it without a lot of snickering," DiMassimo said. "It doesn't help that their audience is media savvy. We all have seen a million of these. Some of us have even made satirical versions of these kind of films."

He pointed out several things wrong with the video from the use of the "super-young non-shirt-tucking, buzz-word spouting tech cool-aid drinker" to the over-the-top music, which he called "somewhere between porn and 'Top Gun.'"

"They've created a video attempting to express the message that they are with or ahead of the times, but their style of doing so proves the opposite," DiMassimo added.

Becky Wang, co-founder and CEO of branding agency Crossbeat, added that most new media companies already use data plus technology and content. Simply renaming the brand doesn't make tronc stand out, she added.

""Their HR video was for whom?" Wang said. "Younger, hipper millennial talent? Was it for 'the industry'? The video, unfortunately, is tone-deaf for both."

That being said, negative press doesn't mean a company is destined to fail. Interbrand's Feldmeth said that rebranding a company can get rid of negative connotations, similar to how GMAC changed its name to Ally Financial.

But, getting a new name isn't always necessary, Feldmeth said. Companies like IBM and GE have been able to change their focus to match changing times while keeping the legacy of their name.

"(Tronc) could probably accomplish what they needed to accomplish without changing the name," Feldmeth said. "Media companies are all being interrupted in the same way. These guys are either brilliant or have gone a step too far. Only history will tell. Aside of the criticism of the name itself, I think it does send a compelling message about how the company has changed."

Crossbeat's Wang said that people are willing to look past a company name if the product is good.

"In this case, make a better product first, then worry about a new name. ... The Tribune, believe it or not, has equity and still stands for journalistic integrity. It looks like they were trying to combine journalism with tech, but unfortunately, the video itself made it seem like tech first, not culturally relevant content," she said.

Despite the negative press, it doesn't mean it's all bad news for tronc.

"At the end of the day, a great product can fix a bad name, but a great name can't fix a bad product," Feldmeth said.

Correction: Tronc was previously known as Tribune Publishing. An earlier version misstated its former name.