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A Shack by Any Other Name…

Posted in Advertising, Branding, Guest Bloggers, Marketing, Trademarks, Truncation

RadioShack recently introduced a new name, rebranding its stores "The Shack", which now adorns their retail environment and marketing efforts.

The change was prompted by a desire to update the 88-year-old brand as they transition to mobile phone and wireless products without losing brand equity and mind-share, according to RadioShack. As Dan Neil of the Los Angeles Times mused, "For a company that wants to talk up its expertise in mobile phones, no one seems to have noticed that mobile phones are radios!"

To officially roll out the new, shortened, and supposedly hipper moniker, RadioShack staged "The Shack Summer Netogether" in NY and SF August 6 – 8, broadcasting the event live via "massive laptops" located in Times Square and Justin Herman Plaza, respectively. Video was streamed live on their Facebook page and their redesigned web site.

The current trend to truncate brand names is puzzling. Is this an attempt to beguile the text-message obsessed youth market, where everything is "abrv8d"? Or drive up sales through brand-brevity because we lack long attention spans?

I understand distilling a brand to its essence. Coke and FedEx are good examples, but Pizza Hut and Circuit City are not.

This past June, Pizza Hut sliced "Pizza" from its boxes and select stores, creating "The Hut". Perhaps this was to reflect the expanded menu, which includes pasta and other non-pizza items, or to be more in sync with the "text message generation" as stated by the Pizza hut Chief Marketing Officer Brian Niccol. But "The Hut" lacks uniqueness, and the food half of their name, which defines them. Is this really something they can own? What other huts can you think of? The jury is still out with this decision.

As for Circuit City, which shuttered its 567 U.S. stores last January, truncating its name didn’t provide a panacea for its fiscal ills. In 2007, a new store format was introduced with a new, shorter name — "The City". The new, "circuit-less" name didn’t result in solvency. It is interesting to note that after Systemax Inc. acquired the brand, the Circuit City moniker was reinstituted.

Back to "The Shack". For RadioShack there is a need to compete with Best Buy, the numero uno of electronics retailers. But I doubt we’ll see Best Buy rebrand itself as "Buy" anytime soon.

One of the weaknesses with the word “shack” is its alternative meaning, shanty, a crude hut or cabin. This is hardly a positive association for a venerable, and once omnipresent brand, trying to freshen up its image.

"The Shack" also faces derogatory non-trademark meanings, much like Kool-Aid and Spam have acquired, as discussed by Steve Baird here. One blogger suggested images of a dark and isolated place where very bad things happen, and it is a little too close to "The Shaft" for my liking.

Cycling fans such as me wonder about the recently announced Team RadioShack Pro-Tour cycling team. Will Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, and Andreas Klöden actually end up riding for "Team Shack"?

Can RadioShack truly own "The Shack"? What should Shaq have to say about this? Should he become the next spokesman for "The Shack" in between Comcast ads? Or maybe the B-52s could grind out a revised version of Love Shack?

A name or a logo is not a brand. The entire experience you have with a company defines the brand. So changing the name and doing "thumbthing" cute with the logo, isn’t addressing the brand holistically.

I question the wisdom of truncating RadioShack at a time the company is trying to resurrect its faltering brand, particularly if "The Shack" moniker lends itself to negative brand associations. This is a time for clarity, not confusion or misdirection.

Performing a "truncatomy" to gain relevancy risks generating non-trademark meanings sure to vex RadioShack brand managers and lawyers, and ultimately, perhaps, render "The Shack" irrelevant.

Randall Hull, The Br@nd Ranch®

  • There is no doubt about it, a brand is far more than a name or a logo and because so few marketers really get this I have waxed on about this for years and expect to for years to come.
    As for Radio Shack, I have often mused on the merits of what might be interpreted as an antiquated concept (radio) in someone’s garden shed. But while I am sure (because I guess the folks at Shack are not stupid)they conducted conclusive research prior to making the change, I’m not convinced they axed the right word.
    Ideally a brand name should give at least a nod in the direction of what you do, include your unique name and adopt a style of language that reflects your brand character – EasyJet, ToysRUs or Cicuit City are good examples. Of course, there are many brandnames that struggle by without ticking all three boxes, but they are just missing a trick.
    I’ll leave it to you to decide whether “Radio Shack” or “Shack” measures up best, but I know where my money is.