Tuesday, August 11

Being Generic: RadioShack Becomes The Shack

When most people talk about "The Shack," they are probably talking about the controversial book by Paul Young, except in Santa Monica.

In Santa Monica, "The Shack" probably means a place to party with wings, burgers, and other things, except basketball.

If you mention "The Shaq" within a context even close to sports, social networks, or down-to-earth celebrity, there can be only one.

And yet, for the strange oddball "rebranding" reason, RadioShack, an international chain of electronics retail stores, hopes to break into millions of brains and reshuffle their indexing system. When we hear "The Shack," they want us to think about them.

Ironically, the abrupt identity change last week has done more to reinforce the electronics chain as an out-of-touch brand.

Although the company's push claims to be a "legacy" brand trying to put a cool, hip spin on itself, "The Shack" is about as hip and cool as being called "Siffy" or forgetting that the orange juice you make is not from concentrate. Worse, the communication plan calls for the company to retain "RadioShack" signage on retail stores in an effort to "hold onto its brand heritage and attract more tech-savvy shoppers."

Brand heritage? They must be kidding.

Not only are the dual objectives in conflict, but one can easily argue that RadioShack's brand image is what earned it an "F" from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) last April. Since, it has made amends with the BBB to receive the much better grade of "C-."

If they really wanted to capture any semblance of brand heritage, they would have to go all the way back to the days when Isaac Assimov endorsed them or well before the near-bankruptcy that convinced the Tandy Corporation to buy them in 1962. Back then, "Realistic" meant exactly what it meant. It meant "generic," which is exactly why all the other brand names — Presidian, Accurian, Optimus, Enercell — that RadioShack has invented have never become household names when compared to any number of greats like Kenwood, Pioneer, JBL, Bose, and a host of others.

A campaign launch on Times Square has about enough chance to change that as passing out T-shirts to employees and calling it an internal rebranding effort designed to change corporate culture. A much more appropriate T-shirt would have read: "My employer spent $200 million on rebranding and all I got was this lousy T-shirt." And on the back: "And a travel mug. Oh boy."

The truth about names and branding is branding better come first.

It's really very simple. Branding makes a name. Naming does not make a brand.

RadioShack's half-hearted rebranding campaign "Our friends call us The Shack," complete with an ugly thumb, is not likely to recapture the $1 billion in lost revenue over the last four years. If anything, it's likely to accelerate the problem created by inflated pricing, lackluster customer service, and "it's stupid" being the most common consumer reaction to the new campaign. If RadioShack wants to save itself before it goes belly up like Circuit City, the most obvious first step is to retool the entire company starting with the people who thought "The Shack" was a good idea.

It seems clear enough that not everyone liked it. If they did, "The Shack" wouldn't be a campaign nickname. It would be the new name. But even if they did commit, it would still have a long way to go before advertising could reverse the mess they made of a once viable company. Nowadays, the only distinguishing feature for this defunct company seems to be that it is a defunct company.

After all, while Best Buy isn't everyone's favorite big box electronics retailer, it does have an image that beat The Shack on price and people some years ago. Meanwhile, Fry's Electronics seems to have the stronger position on staffing knowledgeable people and offering a diversified product. While those two are among the best known, there are more than two dozen other retailers looking to make the The Shack nothing more than a stepping stone for their success.

Want more about The Shack attack? It's not pretty.

"Radio Shack rebranding to 'The Shack'?" by Joshua Topolsky for engadget.

""Yeah, RadioShack is turning into the Shack" by John Biggs for CrunchGear.

"Bringing Down The Shack" by Blake Howard for Matchblog.

"RadioShack, er, the Shack makes its case for relevancy" by Dan Neil for The Los Angeles Times.

"Radio Shack rebranding: Why? Why!?" by John Biggs for CrunchGear.


hampshire on 8/12/09, 1:38 AM said...

The Shaq" within a context even close to sports, social networks, or down-to-earth celebrity, there only one the Radio shack.

Rich on 8/12/09, 6:58 AM said...

Very funny, and true. There is only one RadioShack.

Now the only questions that remains is whether or not you would want to be it? RadioShack needs a rebranding campaign from the inside out much more than it needs a new name. Will it happen?

I like it better when companies do good and win, but today I just can't see it.

All my best,


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