By Apr 01, 2011

LEGACY CAN BE A TWO-EDGED SWORD, especially when it’s hard-wired into a brand name. (Just ask KFC about the flight from “Fried.”) When RadioShack announced in August 2009 that it preferred the breezy nickname “The Shack,” it came in for a good deal of skeptical comment and not a few complaints that the chain was trying too hard to engineer hipness.

Those complaints didn’t die down when RadioShack devoted a large portion of its $200 million marketing budget on TV and in digital ads to introduce the new nickname. The implication was that RadioShack’s re-christening, like Gatorade’s efforts to slim down to “G,” involved turning away from a lot of brand equity in an effort to appeal to a new customer without a real sense of history.

“When we made that announcement [introducing the “Shack” nickname], we came in for a lot of criticism: ‘Changing your name won’t change a thing, so why are you trying to get cool overnight?’” says Applbaum. “We replied that, first, we weren’t changing the name. It’s a handle, a contemporary way of referring to our brand.”

But beyond that furor, the “Shack” announcement served to get people talking about the brand again, including long-time fans who spoke up online to defend the RadioShack tech legacy. After all, this is the brand that, under the ownership of Tandy Corp. in the late ’70s, sold the TRS-80, one of the earliest “microcomputers.” (The term “personal computer” had not yet arrived.)

“It was an igniter for a conversation among the public, and initially the tenor of that conversation ranged from bad to skeptical,” Applbaum says. “But I can say with absolute conviction that I hear no negative comment about ‘The Shack’ anymore.

“It’s just a messaging platform, and at the end of the day, as with all marketing, you have to deliver. The brand promise of The Shack is one of innovation, rooted in mobility. And while I won’t tell you that we’re 100% there today — we need to continue to get innovative products into the pipeline, and the customer experience needs to improve — we’re well on our way along that journey.”