In October of 1955, a marketing researcher at Ford named Robert Young wrote the poet Marianne Moore a curious letter. Ford had designed a new car, which it hoped would revolutionize the industry, and it was struggling to find a good name. Young said that the options his division had come up with were “characterized by an embarrassing pedestrianism.” Perhaps a poet could devise something to convey, “through association or other conjuration, some visceral feeling of elegance, fleetness, advanced features and design.” In the following months, Moore sent Ford a long list of suggestions that were anything but pedestrian: Intelligent Bullet, Ford Fabergé, Mongoose Civique, Bullet Cloisoné, Utopian Turtletop. Ford, unsurprisingly, didn’t go for any of them. Instead, after considering more than six thousand names, it settled on one that has since become a byword for failure: Edsel.
Still, in going to such lengths to find a great name, Ford was ahead of the curve. Corporate branding is now big business, and companies routinely spend tens of millions of dollars rebranding themselves or coming up with names for new products. And good monikers are still defined by Young’s precept that a name should somehow evoke the fundamental qualities that you hope to advertise. If only Tribune Publishing—the media company that owns the Los Angeles Timesand the Chicago Tribune—had followed this simple rule. Earlier this year, Tribune announced that it was reinventing itself as a “content curation and monetization company focused on creating and distributing premium, verified content” (whatever that means) and giving itself a new name: Tronc. The name, which stands for Tribune Online Content, was ridiculed at the time and hasn’t done the company any favors since. Tronc has spent most of the year in talks about being bought by Gannett for more than half a billion dollars. Last week, the deal fell through, because of a lack of financing. After all, just imagine asking bankers for half a billion to buy something called Tronc.