RadioShack scores big with self-effacing Super Bowl ad

Posted 2:30pm on Monday, Feb. 03, 2014

Like the Seattle Seahawks, RadioShack emerged as a big winner on Super Bowl Sunday.

The struggling Fort Worth-based consumer electronics retailer scored with its first Super Bowl ad in a decade, a self-effacing spot that used a troop of 1980s celebrities including Hulk Hogan and Twisted Sister singer “Dee” Snider to highlight its efforts to update a tired image.

Favorable reviews rolled in Monday. The Wall Street Journal called it one of big game’s best ads. The Associated Press said RadioShack “got praise for its surprisingly frank acknowledgment of its dated image.” And CNN blogger Jeff Pearlman wrote: “Bruno Mars and RadioShack bail out a lame Super Bowl.”

Investors took notice too. On a day when the stock market continued to sell off, RadioShack’s stock [ticker: RSH] ended the day up more than 3 percent, or 8 cents, to $2.48.

The ad, produced by Austin-based GSD&M, starts with a stunned clerk answering the phone, then telling a co-worker: “The 80s called. They want their store back.”

In swarms a crazy quilt of personalities ranging from Hogan to tiny gymnast Mary Lou Retton to oversize Hulk Hogan; the grumpy mail carrier from Cheers, Cliff Claven (actor John Ratzenberger); CHiPs lead actor Erik Estada and Alf, who clear the shelves and drive off with the goods loosely secured to the roof of a Back to the Future DeLorean.

The spot closes by showing a new RadioShack store design, emphasizing the makeover underway at the retail chain.

“It’s a funny, self-effacing ad, which confronts the electronics retailer’s reputation for being somewhat less than cutting-edge,” said Harry McCracken of Time magazine’s online Technologizer column.

RadioShack CEO Joe Magnacca, who took over in February 2013, said of the ad: “We love the ’80s like everyone else, but it was time to show how we’ve evolved.”

The ad was rated either No. 1 or among the top five by viewers in various surveys conducted Sunday night, said Jennifer Warren, RadioShack’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer. Some viewers called it “not only best, but most effective in getting the message across that we are ‘a new RadioShack.’ 

Warren, who joined the retailer eight months ago from the digital marketing agency Razorfish, said advertising and client teams first visited a number of small and large markets to canvass consumer views of RadioShack. They heard that the chain was stuck in the 1980s, she said, with one interviewee likening its image to “mullets and jean shorts.”

Any apprehension that the ’80s figures might not want to be depicted as stuck in an unflattering time warp soon evaporated when they began signing on for the 30-second, high-exposure spot, titled The Phone Call, Warren said. “We had an overwhelming positive response.”

Meanwhile, other production staffers scoured the Internet to source the 30-year-old merchandise.

“We decided to address the perception [of being out of date] head-on with a bold and honest approach,” Warren said. “We had some making up to do. We haven’t evolved the brand at the pace we should have — until recently.”

The aired spot was meant to drive traffic to social media sites, which carried a 60-second version, and to related online ads in which Ratzenberger, Alf, Jason and Hogan learn what they can buy at RadioShack to improve their lives. There’s also a supposedly candid, behind-the-scenes video about how the Super Bowl ad was created.

The new ad is part of the chain’s efforts to revitalize its business under new leadership. Since arriving nearly a year ago, Magnacca has assembled a new management team, opened a series of concept stores, refreshed inventories and arranged new financing.

But the company has been losing money. It recorded its seventh straight loss in the third quarter, with the net loss totaling $112 million, more than double the amount the year before. Fourth-quarter results will be released toward the end of the month, the company said Monday.

Barry Shlachter, 817-390-7718 Twitter: @bshlachter

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