When companies admit their flaws

One of the Super Bowl’s highest-rated television ads came from Radio Shack, a company that many people thought had become extinct.

Set to Loverboy’s 1981 hit “Working for the Weekend,” a cast of characters from decades past, including Mary Lou Retton, Hulk Hogan and Teen Wolf, ransack a Radio Shack because “the 80’s called and they want their store back.”

When I first saw the ad, it reminded me of Domino’s campaign to recreate its pizza and produce a better product. Radio Shack and Domino’s both admitted their flaws head-on, a tactic you rarely see at the corporate level. Both companies told the world about their problem and their plan to fix it.

Domino’s customers said their pizza tasted like cardboard, lacked fresh ingredients and was made carelessly. They vowed to listen to their critics, revamp their recipe and deliver better pizza.

Radio Shack has a reputation for being outdated and only selling cords, plugs and random accessories. Consumers think they lack the popular, big-ticket items and the company has to compete with behemoths like Amazon. The Super Bowl spot showed a new store – one that is simple, bright, modern and could go right up against a Best Buy or an Apple store.

Yet unlike Domino’s, within days of airing one of the Super Bowl’s most well-received ads focused on revamping its brand, Radio Shack announced that it would be shuttering around 500 locations.

Whoops.

Was it smart to spend $8 million for a 60-second Super Bowl ad when your company is planning to announce the closure of over 10% of its locations a few days later? And the cruel irony of jokingly stripping down a store, followed by 500 stores soon facing a similar fate is not lost on anyone.

While companies often close stores during a massive restructuring, the commercial struck a chord that was the exact opposite of its downsizing message later that week. The ad could have supplemented the messaging a bit more. Instead it is being characterized as tone-deaf – a light-hearted, self-deprecating advertisement, followed by an announcement that likely affects the employment status of thousands of workers.

There seems to have been a breakdown in communication between the marketing, public relations and sales departments and the small group of decision makers who are intimately involved with the financial side of the business.

While the advertisement may have been a hit the night of the big game, it fell flat from a corporate messaging standpoint when combined with the restructuring and closures.