Radio Shack – The Problem With Product Identified Brand Names

Phil Davis

Branding & Naming Expert President of Tungsten Branding

The irony of naming a new company is that the quickest fix (giving the company a literal/descriptive name) creates the most enduring problem. Witness the latest iteration in “fixing” the Radio Shack brand. To bring it current, make it relevant, and shed its legacy image of radio/transistor/gadgetry, it’s now going to advertise itself as simply “The Shack.” This is similar to Pizza Hut’s attempts at rebranding itself as “The Hut.” The problem is systemic… the whole positioning itself is based on a product (radios) and a place (a “shack”) neither of which reflects well on the brand. This is the same problem encountered by CompUSA and Books-A-Million. They based their brand on a specific narrow product channel, and then spent years (and millions of marketing dollars) trying to break out of a self defined box.

This is one of those “live by the sword, die by the sword” types of branding decisions. Product specific names are great for gaining initial traction when first starting a business. Customers know exactly what you do (i.e. sell radios in small strip mall stores, sell computers in the United States, sell a million books, etc.) But when the company grows and expand its product offerings, (as they so often do,) the very name that helped define them now restrains them. The pain killer becomes the pain maker.

The solution? Look at companies that defined themselves by an attribute, such as Best Buy. Or ones that use a metaphor, such as Target or Amazon. These names provide a more lasting base to build upon. They allow the context to identify their products (i.e. their web page, their ad, their brochure, etc.) so the name can be freed up to evoke a bigger message.

So before you name your business The DVD Barn, be sure that is the only product you will ever sell.

About the author: With over twenty five years of company naming and branding expertise, Tungsten founder Phil Davis is a marketing and advertising veteran, having personally named over 250 companies, products and services worldwide. As a sought after branding expert, Phil has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal,, Businessweek, Entrepreneur, and Newsday.

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