“The day the radio’s in trouble is the day you don’t want a friend. As long as you want a friend, you’re gonna love it.” This was Bob Pittman, CEO of iHeartMedia and former CEO of MTV Networks, AOL, and Six Flags Theme Parks. You may know iHeartMedia better by its recently defunct name, Clear Channel. Mr. Pittman appeared on Bloomberg TV to discuss the name change, where he peppered his handsome hosts with so many statistics that the closed captioning fell seconds behind. “In 1970,” Pittman said, “93% of people listened to radio every week. In 2014, 92% listened every week.” He went on to claim, “70% of people say they discover their new music on FM radio.” The hosts and I were skeptical, but no one was prepared to check his facts. However, more interesting than the validity of his claims, is the validity of his names, specifically iHeartMedia.
Clear Channel introduced the iHeartRadio app in 2008 to provide listeners with an online way to consume its 800+ radio stations. Only a few weeks ago though, in an effort to rebrand itself as a multi-media digital platform, Clear Channel decided to rebrand itself using the “iHeart” tag. This is not the first time a company has released a product only to decide later to rebrand the company after that same product (see BlackBerry, Vudu). So, riding on the success of their digital innovation, the corporate giant went from sounding like an aging baby boomer to a texting tween.
Although it sounds young and trendy, iHeart is a name with some history behind it. The first hearting happened in 1977 with the introduction of the I ♥ NY shirts, which continue to be an enormous success. But if you asked someone what their shirt said back then, no one would have read it, “I heart New York.”
It wasn’t until the film I ♥ Huckabees that we started to hear people say “I heart” instead of “I love.” In the modern age of non-commitment, saying “I heart you” is so much safer than dropping the L-bomb. To heart something is to love it spontaneously, much like a new pop song. You can heart something and quickly heart something else, never having to worry about breaking any hearts. Yes, hearting is the perfect emotion for an app that allows users to capriciously browse and switch between hundreds of radio stations and playlists.
Furthermore, the “I heart” verb is a recent addition to the English lexicon, hinting that iHeartMedia is now stressing that they are contemporary and cool, rather than coming in loud and clear. The lower-case “i” makes the name cuter and more personal, piggybacking on Apple’s use of the letter in its products (however, Apple recently ended their “i” name legacy with the Apple Watch). That little “i” jibes well with users’ ability to create personalized radio stations on the iHeartRadio app and interact with iHeartRadio DJs via social networks. “People use Spotify to escape the world,” Pittman says, “but people use the radio to connect with it.”
The iHeart tag allows the company to develop a strong, identifiable brand architecture for its products. This rebranding is also well-timed since Pittman says their iHeartRadio’s brand awareness is second only to Pandora. If we saw a streaming video service called iHeartTV, we would immediately know who owned it. This capability to expand, along with its modern, personal messaging, is what makes the iHeartMedia rebranding so valuable. Thank you iHeartMedia. I love, I mean, I heart what you’ve done.