Struggling RadioShack has an unlikely hope for the holidays: Weird Al.
Yes, that Weird Al — Yankovic, the pop culture parody singer, will appear in the financially-strapped electronic chain’s big holiday ad that breaks Friday in cinemas nationally and on TV on Dec. 5. With many of its stores closing, a major financial restructuring in the works and its stock below $1 a share — the chain is hoping that this won’t be its last-ever holiday ad campaign.
The company will close about 200 of its roughly 4,000 U.S. stores this year. RadioShack shares Thursday closed flat at 99 cents.
Chief marketing officer Jennifer Warren insists that Radio Shack is not about to go out of business, and this will not be its final holiday. “Every day is important when you’re in the middle of a turnaround,” she says, in a phone interview. “It’s a marathon. We are making progress.”
These are tough times at RadioShack. Back in September, the Fort Worth company warned investors that it was running out of cash and might have to seek bankruptcy-court protection from creditors if it couldn’t raise sufficient funds. It has since found some investors, including hedge fund Standard General LP, to infuse cash and give it a little financial breathing room. But the clock is ticking and it has, arguably, never faced a more critical holiday than this one.
Enter Weird Al.
Yankovic, who is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, but may be best-known for his Michael Jackson “Beat It” parody dubbed “Eat It,” declined to be interviewed for this story. But Warren says that Yankovic, who hasn’t appeared in an ad since a Diet Coke spot in 1984, is a huge fan of RadioShack.
“He’s tech-savvy, smart and a social media guru,” says Warren. “I don’t think there could be a better fit for our brand right now.” He’s got more than 3.5 million Twitter followers and 1.6 million Facebook fans.
In the spot, filmed last week in Los Angeles, Yankovic breaks into a high-energy song (to the tune of “Toyland”) when a RadioShack customer asks if the store carries heliquads, an interactive, remote-controlled helicopter. Yankovic sings that RadioShack is the perfect spot to find gifts for boys, girls “and even cousin Bob, who’s 23 and lives at home.”
Beyond its advertising, RadioShack also is taking a very different product approach to holiday this year, says Warren. Instead of stocking gobs of merchandise, it is focusing on key products that it thinks will appeal to families, she says. Among those, the Surveyor Drone heliquad at $69.99 and the $99.99 littleBits Kits of smart circuit building blocks for kids.
“We’re going to be a lot more strategic this holiday,” says Warren.
But one brand guru questions if this will ultimately jolt holiday sales at Radio Shack.
“Weird Al is a great choice because he crosses generations and is part of today’s nerd culture,” says brand strategist Steven Addis. “But, they’ve failed to answer the larger question: Why should I go there?”