The only thing more surprising than seeing a bunch of aging 80′s stars in a single commercial is finding out that RadioShack still exists. Somehow, that store has scraped along in the shadows. All of our associations with RadioShack revolve around the 80s, which is disasterous for a tech store in the modern era. We think of RadioShack, and we think of old technology. How can we do otherwise? The name of the store itself prompts us back to that time when radios, boomboxes and CB radios were a desired product.
Time is a particularly potent association. This is RadioShack’s misfortune. When something is in the past, it is over, irrelevant, even distant. There is some evidence to show that the neurology which lights up for distance in time is the same that lights up for distant in space and social distance. (The population size in the experiment needs to be larger before one can claim something conclusive). Ever notice how we use “far” and “close” to describe time, space, and social distance? It should not be too odd to realized that, when we dislike someone, they can feel farther away in space; their presence can feel less imminent than a friend who is standing just beyond them. For RadioShack, if we want to pick something up today, we would have to drive all the way to the 80s, which is distant indeed. Any local store carrying the same product in this modern era is much closer.
Time must be rewritten. RadioShack has a heavy task, but they have a good lever in their favor: the unconscious mind is horrible at telling time. When you are sleeping, and your unconscious is free at play, we feel like we wake almost as immediately as we close our eyes. Good times fly by and times of boredom can drag on forever. Our experience of time dilates and constricts regardless of how the clock ticks. RadioShack did well in their commercial by speaking in a way our unconscious understands. They found a way out of the 80s and created new associations relating to modernity.
RadioShack decided that a theme of transformation, perhaps even a type of death and rebirth, was most appropriate to get across their reimage. This is in contrast to the rebranding in the other commercials above who just got on with creating new associations and repeating that link as quickly and powerfully as possible. RadioShack must invoke the old, in order to transform or kill it.
They first invoked the 80s by showing a very 80s version of their store. Fake wood paneling is everwhere. The store is brown and beige, reminiscent of the time when beige was the go to color of electronics like computers and monitors. The signs on the wall proclaim, “Boom Boxes” and “Fax Machines,” and they display some of those ancient and giant beasts. Then, the 80s itself calls and tells the employee that they “want their store back.” This gives a clever effect. When we later see Alf, Hulk Hogan and others plundering the store, we don’t see them merely as the individuals. Instead, we see them as manifestations of the 80s. It is the 80s itself doing this to the store, not any particular icon of that era. That distinction is important for the commercial to work.
The next step is transforming or killing the 80s version of RadioShack. A horde of aged 80s icons burst through the door and ransack the place. Devo is ripping products off the walls. The California Raisins are kicking electronics off the shelf. Even the murderous doll, Chucky, is seen tearing up the carpet by stabbing it repeatedly. Hulk Hogan lifts and carries off a display pillar. Notice that it has subtly switched from items being looted, to the store itself being destroyed in increasingly meaningful ways. While you may not have noticed it, your subconscious likely did. The store is destroyed and we are left with a prolonged image of the dead and gutted store. As they spent $198,000 on airtime for that shot alone, you can bet they really wanted it to sink into your unconscious. The last we see of the 80s is a DeLorean over-filled with loot and peeling rubber as it races out of the area, presumably up to 88 mph. How ingenious of them to remind us of time travel moments before they show us their new store.
Everything is new. RadioShack is rebranded and reborn. The entire store seems to be a thick glossy white like Wall-E’s girlfriend. It has occasional splashes of color artistically placed in the style of modern art. The music has shifted from a classic 80s song to a modern rhythm. Even the employees are transformed, having donned slackerwear double t-shirts as opposed to those uptight red polos. Even the attitude and slogan are changed. RadioShack, well-known for carrying small electronic parts for DIY projects is now pushing DIT or “Do It Together.” It is a new store in every way.
Much like the other Super Bowl commercials, RadioShack has a slightly extended version viewable online. They lay on a few more techniques that speak to our unconscious there. Adding lightness and darkness in images can have strong effects on how we feel about it. Generally speaking, if one imagines something they like (perhaps a favorite celebrity) and then turns up the brightness in that mental picture, the feeling they had will also intensify. RadioShack uses this excellently. The announcer’s voice asks us to “See what’s possible when we do things together.” To accent “together” and intensify the good feelings we get from such of word of connectedness, the employee turns on a lamp with perfect timing. Now the whole image is bright. Most of us will be affected by this subconscious, perhaps subliminal, technique. That shot also doubles as a way to showcase their modernity because the employee turns on the lamp remotely with his cell phone! That tech is so fresh that most of us didn’t even know it was out yet.
RadioShack further shows their separation from the 80s in the extended commercial. Much like in the Budweiser ad where the true message is in the relationship between metaphorical characters, like how the separation of the puppy and the Clivesdale represents our separation from Budweiser itself, RadioShack also has created meatphorical characters and uses them to good effect. They had set up earlier that any 80s character represents the 80s itself. So, when Slimer oozes through the wall in his frantic way, we have the slacker-type employee, representing the modern store, rudely dismiss Slimer. He has a curt little message for our green friend, then turns his back on him. RadioShack uses the light/dark technique again here. The employee turns off the light on Slimer, on the 80s, and he does so with the super-fresh phone-controlled lamp. RadioShack believes itself to be the new kid at the cool table, and like the new kid there, loudly disdains the awkward kids in an attempt to hide where it used to sit. Let’s hope it’s commercial is successful enough for us to think that is natural.
The final screen of the extended ad exerts influence in a novel way not seen in the other commercials. They do so with the words on the screen. In large prominent letters it says “D.I.Y HAS EVOLVED. IT’S TIME FOR D.I.T.” First, you read the word “evolved” and tie it to RadioShack. RadioShack has apparently evolved – did you not just see it’s transformation? The marketers have cleverly created the effect where our eyes get stuck on “evolved.” Notice how the “Y” in D.I.Y is missing its period. Was this a careless typographical gloss? With this commerical’s already demonstrated level of sophistication, just assume everything is intentional. They remembered the final period in D.I.T. afterall. What the marketers wanted is for “evolved” to be set apart in some way so attention is drawn to it, even if that attention is unconscious. If you attend closely, you’ll notice that “evolved” is followed by a large gap. A period and a space. Your mind hits that and lingers in that area momentarily. You’ll just have to trust me, a hypnotist, when I tell you it is long enough to have an effect on your subconscious. It is the only gap like that, which is further ensured by writing in all upper-case letters. Note that second similar gap would appear if they had punctuated “D.I.Y.” correctly or used some lower-case letters. They can’t do that because it would ruin the subconscious effect.