Radio Shack: Great ad, dying store

It's the P-L-A-Y, just here to say hi ...

It’s the P-L-A-Y, just here to say hi …

So I was watching the Super Bowl, last night, absolutely miserable. The game was one-sided, my sister-in-law’s boyfriend kept making painful game observations, the kids were whining to stay up past halftime. And then, this …

It is, without question, my all-time favorite Super Bowl advertisement. And I don’t think there’s a particularly close second. Why? Multiple reasons: A. Because I’m a child of the 1980s; B. Because I’m a huge admirer of self-deprecation; C. Because Radio Shack loaded this thing with a Who’s Who of the era’s mainstays. Alf! Kid ‘n Play! Dee Snider! Mary Lou Retton! Hulk Hogan! I mean, it was absolutely dazzling. So much so that, as it started to air, I literally screamed out, “Oh my God!”

Again, the best Super Bowl commercial of all-time.

And yet …

I can’t help but feel that Radio Shack—God bless ’em—just wasted a couple of million dollars on an advertisement that won’t save a sinking ship. Because, if we’re being honest here, that’s what Radio Shack is. I know of no one who seeks out there store; no one who ever asks, “Is there a Radio Shack nearby?” Part of the problem is the competition. Back in the day, Radio Shack was the store if you needed any sort of gadget. Now, however, there are 50 alternatives in every mid-level city. A bigger issue, though, is perception. The name itself—Radio Shack—dates it by 20 years. I mean, who listens to the radio these days? Who even has one anywhere besides the car? When I think of Radio Shack, I think of being 8 or 9, and going there monthly to receive my free battery (the store used to issue battery cards).

Truly, I hope the commercial works. I hope the Radio Shack revolution has begun. I hope, 10 years from now, we’ll be talking about Radio Shack in the way we speak of Apple.

But I don’t see it happening.

And I’m not alone.

3 thoughts on “Radio Shack: Great ad, dying store”

  1. Interesting because Saturday before the game I purposely sought out RadioShack.
    First I went to Bestbuy because they were on the way and easier to get to.
    They didn’t have the part I wanted so to the mall I went.
    Just as I knew they would they had that significant part that allowed me to watch the game.
    The part? I don’t watch much tv since my feud with the idiots at Comcast. I have an old antenna on the roof attached by one wire from one of those old flat tv cables.
    I needed a converter so I could toss the old brittle wire and replace it with coax cable. $6 and it allowed me to watch the blow out.
    On the other hand I wouldn’t be surprised if Bestbuy bit the dust.

  2. If I’m Radio Shack’s CEO, here are the facts I need to face:

    1) Radio Shack cannot compete based on price or breadth of selection against big-box stores, let alone the Internet.

    2) The initiative a few years ago to hire highly knowledgable staffers who could offer expert advice didn’t work. It’s just not economically feasible to employ people with those qualifications in a retail store, and anyway, that alone isn’t going to keep the store afloat.

    But I think there’s still a way for Radio Shack to be a viable company; it would just require some radical changes.

    Look at Build-a-Bear, across the mall corridor. The experience of building your own bear from scratch can’t be replicated online. Sure, you can order a custom bear online, but kids love Build-a-Bear because they get to witness the construction from start to finish. Build-a-Bear is as much an event as it is a store.

    I think Radio Shack could fashion itself into something similar, but for electronics and gadgetry.

    Remember those popular Radio Shack 50-in-1 science project kits? Imagine a Radio Shack where you come in, choose a project, and then build it right there in the store. A kid might come in and buy a robot kit, or a solar-powered race car kit, and they’d be able to assemble it there, with all of the tools (soldering irons, etc.) provided, and with assistance from trained (but not necessarily expert) staffers. STEM is really big in schools right now. Maybe Radio Shack could market itself as a place to pick up STEM skills, and even partner with schools.

    But it wouldn’t have to be limited to kids stuff. An adult might come in and participate in a DIY electronics workshop: “How to replace an electrical outlet” or “How to work on a circuit board.”

    Along the same lines, imagine if every Radio Shack had a MakerBot 3D printer available to rent. You can upload a 3D model to its website, or choose a model in store, and come in and see it printed right before your eyes.

    With this sort of strategy, Radio Shack wouldn’t necessarily need to recruit domain experts, because what would be needed is not a wealth of general knowledge, but some very specific knowledge about a relatively small number of specific projects. A highly motivated high-school or college student could be taught how to lead people in constructing the projects or running the workshops.

    That is a Radio Shack I would totally patronize, and it’s a strategy that shields the store from needing to compete solely on price or on breadth of selection.

  3. I would agree with your over all take, but would differ (somewhat) on one point. Entertaining as that ad was, I think the concept was a HUGE risk, and probably a bad idea. Strip everything else a way, and the message in that ad was pretty much this: “We’ve sucked for a long time, but we promise we aren’t going to suck any more”. Why spend millions to publically broadcast a weakness? And can they really “no longer suck”? I was in a Radio Shack a year ago for the first time in God knows how long. I was pretty surprised at what they had in stock – it was quite a change. But it’s no Best Buy. Now they have sorta promised they will be Best Buy – while simultaneously reminding people they used to suck. Bad ad, in my opinion

    I’d add that while the name “Radio Shack” is certainly problematic, I don’t think it is fatal if they can get that brand to mean something. But sure, they probably would better off if 30 years ago they followed the path of American Telephone & Telegraph and gone with just initials.

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