Brand bankruptcy: how RadioShack went from the Super Bowl to the toilet bowl

Back in 2014, RadioShack ran a Super Bowl commercial in an attempt to resuscitate its brand. Just three years later, RadioShack declared bankruptcy a second time.

The Super Bowl ad was a winner in my opinion – the spot featured 80s icons and it entertained me. Unfortunately, the ad did not inspire me – or millions of other consumers – to shop there again. Weeks after the Super Bowl ad ran, RadioShack announced the closing of 1,100 stores.

Brands are not built on ad campaigns, let alone Super Bowl spots. Advertising is brand awareness, not brand culture building. If RadioShack had invested more in brand culture building and customer experience and less on a "Hail Mary" Super Bowl ad, it would be in less dire straights today. Instead, RadioShack made a losing bet with a false promise that it suddenly offered a more modern retail experience across the franchise with a nostalgic ad.

Great brands are built from the inside out

Great brands and successful rebranding initiatives are never built from the outside in, but always from the inside out. Think about it. When was the last time you actually wanted to go to a RadioShack? When you did, were the RadioShack employees actually happy to serve you? Were they truly passionate about the job and inspired to live a modern brand?

Perhaps with such an antiquated brand name like RadioShack, I shouldn't expect a modern customer experience. The only radios I’ve purchased during the last few decades came packaged inside automobiles. Even a renamed “Digital” or “Electronics Shack” would have improved employee morale. A name change would have implied that the chain had at least one eye on the future instead of both legs standing in the grave.

For customers in an age of experiential “retail-tainment,” going to a shack is not an exciting destination. (Shacks are where you get a smoothie, shake or some clams by the beach.)

Other than a merchandise mix as inconsistent as the service, customers never knew what to expect inside a RadioShack. At times it seemed the chain was a Franken-brand of retail, hoping to be part Apple Store, Best Buy or AT&T, in recent incarnations. Instead, RadioShack became lackluster, while trying to find a profitable niche at the expense of defining its own brand and customer experience.

So what advice would I give RadioShack as it fights for its last breath?

1. Build a consistent brand culture

Discover and document authentic brand values and use them to inspire your team. A brand is not a Super Bowl ad. It is not a name and logo. A brand is delivering on a promise that builds an emotional connection with employees and customers.

It can take a lot of complex work to simply be who you say you are and consistently do what you say you do, but it is essential for any retailer. It is a constant evolution based on authentic values and guiding principles.

2. Dare to disrupt

Explore inventing future-forward, house-brand merchandise, perhaps in virtual and augmented reality. Wearable tech certainly fits the jewelry store sized footprint across your franchise. Consider crowdsourcing ideas and funding from your customer community of gadget geeks, inventors and builders for loyalty-endearing R&D.

3. Don't forsake your franchisees

Learn from the store owners. They’re on the front lines. What are they hearing from customers? What ideas do they have? Make them part of the solution before it truly is too late.

4. You have fallen, but can get up

Your most loyal customers are likely older, so cater to them if you don't want to go younger. You may even be able to serve both by targeting the sandwich generation – customers who are caregivers for young children and elderly parents at the same time. Offer tech that entertains kids to give parents a break, plus senior monitoring and emergency communication devices that provide peace of mind.

Advertising campaigns and ill-conceived rebranding efforts are shallow strategies when brand problems run organizationally deep. Ads create awareness – and Super Bowl ads generate a lot of it – but RadioShack spent too much money on a desperate external strategy instead of investing in an authentic internal brand. A brand made relevant for today, restored from the inside out, instead of remaining an antiquated one whose time has likely run out.

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