Maybe "The Shack" Isn't The Problem...

An article by Tom Parrette (my comments follow)

'What a Shortened Name Says About a Brand'

Two name changes—or more correctly, modifications—have received attention in the media and branding worlds recently. Pizza Hut has announced that its boxes and select locations will carry the name “The Hut,” and RadioShack plans to unveil new creative for “The Shack,” its shorter, catchier moniker.

These name shortenings are proof of what professional namers already know: names acquire meaning, they don’t create meaning. Once meaning is established, the brand name can be reduced to a shorthand version of itself, signaling its secure place in the realm of consumer awareness.

In the case of Pizza Hut and RadioShack, there’s also a more tactical motivation. As brands move away from their legacy offerings and expand product assortments, they outgrow their descriptive names. Today, Pizza Hut sells more than pizza, and RadioShack has more than radios on its shelves. The two brands are larger than their original products; their names stand for tangible and intangible experiences.

There’s also a familiarity expressed in a shorter name, akin to a nickname. The shorter handles inject the brands with a first-name-basis ease that everyone can participate in, but that ultimately acknowledges a loyal clientele. “The Hut” isn’t just any hut, it’s the hut. The only hut.

Name shortenings are nothing new. For decades, brands have abbreviated their names to reflect vernacular speech or to protect equity. In many cases, the brand adopted and claimed ownership of a nickname, a testament to the reverse influence consumers can have on brands. Here are a few notable examples.

Kentucky Fried Chicken: In 1990, the Commonwealth of Kentucky trademarked the name “Kentucky,” forcing businesses to pay a licensing fee to use it. KFC was able to sidestep the issue by changing its brand name to the commonly used nickname. The fast-food restaurant has recently expanded its brand nomenclature to include KGC (the “G” standing for “grilled”).

Jack In The Box: The brand’s new logo positions “Jack” as the primary name by demoting “In The Box” to a visually subordinate level. Whether “Jack” becomes the official name has yet to be seen.

Charles Schwab: Not a name change, but noteworthy nonetheless—the brokerage’s most recent ad campaign employs the headline “Ask Chuck,” conveying a trusted familiarity.

America Online: The company officially changed its name to AOL in 2006, stating: “Our new corporate identity better reflects our expanded mission—to make everyone's online experience better. Plus, consumers in the U.S. and around the world already know us by our initials."

American Express: Amex, the abbreviated form of the name, is a company trademark.

Federal Express: Global market research revealed that “federal” connoted something bureaucratic and slow, and the full name was difficult to pronounce in certain foreign markets. In 1994, Fedex was adopted as the official brand name. The company’s new name also proved much easier to use in visual applications where space was limited.

Coca-Cola: The company behind the legendary drink registered the name Coke in 1945, but it has since become a genericized trademark.

As for The Hut and The Shack, time will tell what market reception of the shorter names will be. In the latter’s case, there’s clearly an intent to inject a youthful hipness into the brand. Advertising invites customers to “Crash the Party” at The Shack’s dedicated web page, where an urban palette and social media define a more progressive brand experience. Is this a fresh new chapter for the dated electronics catchall? Does the literal meaning of “shack,” a crudely built structure, unwittingly reinforce the brand’s slipshod merchandising strategy? Like all brand names, new or modified, The Shack will acquire the meaning that consumers give it.

Tom Parrette is Director of Verbal Branding at Addis Creson, a Berkley, California-based strategic branding firm dedicated to creating positive change for clients and communities.

And now for my thoughts on the subject…

I thought this article did a great job summarizing the latest name-changing trend and the history of changed names, so thanks Tom!

Just to be clear – “The Shack” is not an actual name-change; it’s a nickname RadioShack is attempting to implement through an integrated marketing campaign. And I think I’m the only person in the marketing world who likes it. I, for one, would much rather go to The Shack than to RadioShack. Everyone keeps comparing it to huts, shanties, lean-tos, etc. The first thing that popped into my mind was the “Love Shack.” Hey-o!

True story: a couple weeks ago, I was on my way to see King Lear with some friends (irrelevant, I know, but now you think I'm classy, right?) and came across a RadioShack. We immediately launched into a discussion about how we didn’t even know it still existed and began coming up with theories on how they could possibly still be in business. We figured they must sell something other than radios and walkie-talkies, but what? We decided they needed a name-change and some solid, product-focused marketing – and voila! A couple weeks later, enter “The Shack.”

Is it a little cheesy? Yes. Are they trying too hard to be cool? Yes. Is it better than people not even realizing they still exist? Yes!

The campaign has all the important elements for marketing to Millennials. It’s integrated (combo of advertising, Facebook, Twitter, pretty website, live events, etc), innovative (big laptops connecting San Fran to NY), and interactive (social media, live events, etc). It’s a nice concept, and hey, at least they’re trying. I may be the only one, but I hope it goes well for them.

(Image ripped from Harry McCracken's review of the live events on The Technologizer. Thanks, Harry!)

That said, I think most people will agree that RadioShack’s biggest problem isn’t their name. They’re trying to be everything to everyone. Why not scale back on the product overload (their website is SO cluttered - and kind of ugly) and focus on a few needs that aren’t being met by the industry giants? Specialize in something. Before a marketing blitz, no matter how good the marketing is, there has to be a product worth marketing. If anything is going to cause this campaign to fail, it’s not the name – it’s what’s behind it.


Tim said...

Love your blog, found you thru a friend.

Please feel free to visit us at The Fort anytime, you are always welcome!

Love and Prayers,


Jason Karpf said...

I blog about Pizza Hut's flirtation with "The Hut." In my post, I quote marketing guru Laura Ries who consistently warns against such brand tampering. I concur with her. Your point about Radio Shack's need to specialize is correct. They can't compete against Best Buy (RIP, Circuit City) or even department stores' electronics sections. They need to find a niche--fast.

Adrienne Waldo said...

Jason, I love your comparison of these branding changes to a person going through a midlife crisis.

I still like The Shack for no better reason than I think it's cute, but I agree that a lot of brands take it too far out of desperation to stay relevant. Sometimes it's necessary, and can be very effective done correctly. For instance, I think Fedex shortening its name was brilliant. In general, I'm against complete branding overhauls. I think if a big, established brand wants to make changes to their name or logo, they need to be subtle, elegant changes as opposed to becoming something their existing customers won't even recognize and will have to relearn and reconnect with.

Jim Waldo said...

Hi Adrienne,

Quick editorial from your favorite Boomer. At one time Radio Shack was the Industry Giant. They dominated the electronics retail market. In fact, in the late 70's (ahh, I remember it well...) they came out with an amazing computer called the TRS-80. Radio Shack and this computer pioneered the programming language BASIC which is still used today in a much advanced form. Your grandfather owned three TRS-80's and swore that it was the best computer on the market, better than it's competitors the Apple and the Comodore. Pop used the dual floppy drive Radio Shack computer (no hard drive) to write programs for his high school students to learn calculus.

There was a time, and it is still true today right here in Sedalia, MO, that "The Shack" was/is the only place where you can find solutions to tricky little electronics issues. A recent example is when your little brother, Isaiah, tripped over the microphone cord at the church 5th Sunday kareokee lunch. He snapped the jack off the RCA chord. I tried to find a replacement all over town and the only place that had a solution was "The Shack"! They had a replacement jack that I was able to splice onto the chord.

I love The Shack and I hope their attempt at a new image pulls them out of the Millennial generation doldrums.

Keep up the good work. I love your blog!

Love, Dad

DRSimoes said...

I lost my hat!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jason said...

Interesting article, I think that RadioShack has issues distinguishing itself from it's competitors, most notably Best Buy. It is no longer seen as a industry leader nor should it try to be. The Brand itself was a electronic enthusiasts dream, it is mainly a electronic hobbyist establishment. It's where one would go to buy coaxial cable or speaker wires, not necessarily place you would think of to buy a computer. I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that "Millennial's" are not very comfortable with taking apart their electronic devices. Not necessarily because they cannot or do not want to, but mostly because devices are becoming more complicated (ie. Iphones, Blackberry). As for "The Shack", I'm not sure I could adopt that in everyday speech, "Hey lets go to The Shack, I need a speaker wire?". Sounds more like a taco stand or a college bar, um.. maybe they are on to something!

John Papers said...

Can you write more about "Maybe "The Shack" Isn't The Problem..."?
I am making a list of the "Maybe "The Shack" Isn't The Problem..."

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