Hype Sheet: Radio Shack is Wrong on So Many Levels

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The Pitch "Penelope" is not a happy camper. Seems that she's had it up to here with her boyfriend's vinylphilia, and she appears to have issued an ultimatum in advance of her latest business trip: either the records go, or I do. How will the conflicted Romeo respond? Why, by magically using a couple of Radio Shack cables and a new laptop to digitize his entire LP collection—in, uh, three or four days (a generous estimate based on the size of Penelope's suitcase). The result? Our male protagonist is definitely gettin' some tonight, based on Penelope's winsome reaction to the booming iPod dock awaiting her return. "With our help at Radio Shack, you don't just buy stuff," the narrator declares during the outro. "You do stuff." Wait, is the Shack really trying to pitch itself as a customer-service mecca? And are their ad folks really that ignorant about analog-to-digital transferring? Why, yes—yes they are.

Rip-Off Of The movie version of High Fidelity, though John Cusack's character had the good sense not to toss his vinyl for a woman's love—a tradeoff that can only end in tears. (I'll confess, though, that Penelope is a few degrees hotter than Iben Hjejle.)

The Spin Radio Shack is trying to mimic Home Depot's strategy—that is, portraying itself as a project-solving center rather than just another off-the-shelf retailer. I guess they've come to realize that the cellphone game isn't the future, not least of all because wireless carriers' stores are eating their lunch. Hence the shift to helping you not only purchase electronic goods, but also figure out what combination of gadgets you need to accomplish specific tasks. And, hey, who better to help you out with a long list of irritating questions than a helpful Radio Shack salesman? Because we all know what a joy it is to ask a Shack employee something other than, "Can you please sign me up for the most overpriced cellphone contract possible?"

Counterspin If you're going to market your expertise, it's advisable to demonstrate that expertise in your commercial, no? Yet the Shack totally botches this one, starting with the timing problem. Loverboy here has, at minimum, 2,000 records in his apartment. Assuming each record has an hour of music, that's 120,000 minutes of music he's gotta digitize, a task that would take him over 83 days of nonstop work. Doesn't look like his girlfriend is packed for a three-month trip, does it? On top of that, um, doesn't Radio Shack's solution (new laptop plus cables plus iPod dock) strike you as a wee bit 2004? What, they don't carry anything along the lines of these? Finally—and this really gets my goat—no self-respecting vinyl junkie stacks his LPs from floor-to-ceiling, as is shown in one of the ad's first frames. Though I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that the Shack doesn't keep it real.


Takeaway These are trying times for Radio Shack, with Citigroup recently recommending that investors sell the company's stock. So you've got to applaud the Shack's brain trust for recognizing that stay-the-course isn't the best strategy right now. But, seriously, do they really want to emphasize the part of their business—customer service—that is notoriously abysmal? Perhaps if the current "Do Stuff" campaign was accompanied by a true reinvention of the Shack's approach to sales—say, by doing away with commissions, or not trying so hard to push cellphone plans above all else—then there'd be something there. But judging by my last few visits, that's simply not the case—Godspeed to anyone who tries to buy a heatsink at the Radio Shack on W. 125 Street in Manhattan. (Stock response to every heatsink question: "I have no idea.") Factor in the annoying technical ignorance and anti-analog bias of this commercial, and you've got a real clunker for the ages.

Hype-O-Meter 1.5 (out of 10). Half-a-point for Penelope's undeniable hotness—anyone know if she's appeared in anything else? But aside from that, wow, the Shack is on the schneid.


Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired and a columnist for both The New York Times and Slate. His Hype Sheet column appears every Thursday on Gizmodo.

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