RadioShack Looks to Regain Relevance With Push for Younger Consumers

Struggling Retailer Has a New CMO And Plans to Become the 'Neighborhood Technology Playground'

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Gyrating, scantily clad models with pouty red lips haven't exactly been a hallmark of RadioShack advertising, but the latest spot -- inspired by Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" music video and promoting Beats by Dre's Pill speaker -- is the first indication the electronics retailer is embarking on major changes.

Robin Thicke's 'Blurred Lines' video for RadioShack
Robin Thicke's 'Blurred Lines' video for RadioShack

Jennifer Warren, the new chief marketing officer and a former ad-agency exec, says the retailer is moving quickly to make changes in its advertising as it attempts an aggressive turnaround. It hopes to attract younger consumers, alert customers to the popular products it carries, such as Beats, and rethink the design of its stores. RadioShack is also rolling out a brand platform and tagline, "Let's Play," in an effort to become the "neighborhood technology playground."

The ad, which has racked up 1.5 million views on YouTube, surprised some people, Ms. Warren said, but was generally well-received. Taking a risk with the #UWantIt ad has won the retailer points, even among franchise owners who Ms. Warren said are eager to see the marketer become culturally relevant again.

"Everyone knows us as a place to go for things you need in a pinch, and we'll continue to serve that audience, but we want to go beyond that," Ms. Warren explained. "We're on every corner; people are currently just driving by us."

Jennifer Warren
Jennifer Warren

For years the retailer has attempted, in fits and starts, to turn itself around. It has suffered from myriad issues: an indistinct position in the marketplace; a name that hardly reflects the products it carries; stores a fraction the size of competitors'; and a reputation for less-than-stellar customer service. There was the 2009 rebrand as "The Shack" during an attempt to focus on mobile. Those moves disenchanted DIY customers, who left the chain in droves.

Today, with "The Shack" moniker long gone and so-called tinkerers back in the fold, RadioShack is looking to make stores destinations with interactive experiences and products grouped by brand instead of category. The retailer will also dial back its focus on mobile. While still an important part of the business -- mobile makes up more than half of sales -- employees are being told to focus on selling the "whole" store.

"We've been pretty promotional in the past and very focused on mobile. In the future we'll expand what we're talking about," Ms. Warren said, hence the splashy ad for the Beats' Pill. "Right now awareness is low. We want people to be aware we have these great brands."

Ms. Warren, who joined the retailer a month ago from Razorfish, knows revamping RadioShack won't be a simple task. First-quarter same-store sales fell 6%, a $43 million loss.

Before accepting the job, her first on the client side, Ms. Warren visited stores and talked to employees. Many were excited, she said, by changes they saw coming from management, including shifting the focus to consumers. That was key to her decision to take the job. A hands-on leadership team was also crucial. As the turnaround gets underway, the team meets daily, tackling everything from hiring practices to store design.

"We are making wholesale changes to the business," Ms. Warren said. "We're not going to turn the brand around by doing an ad campaign. ... We're working with HR, operations, merchants to build a relevant brand expression, and the messaging moving forward will reflect that."

Ms. Warren said the 2013 marketing budget will be similar to last year -- it spent $88 million on measured media, according to Kantar Media. Ms. Warren, whose mark on the brand will be seen in a back-to-college campaign, said she has no plans to change RadioShack's existing relationships with Grey, Mindshare and Weber Shandwick.

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