The Radio Shack® Problem

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If only Amazon® had called itself “BooksOnline” I’m sure it would be the world’s biggest retailer by now, second only to Radio Shack.

That’s the gist of what people tell me all the time. They understandably believe a trademark that describes their product is awesome because then everyone will know what they’re selling.

I have a different way of looking at it.

An awesome trademark lets you move into new markets that might not even exist today. A non-descriptive trademark is an asset to be leveraged. A descriptive mark is a liability that makes you as nimble as Mosha, the three-legged elephant.

Radio Shack has always been my go-to-crappy-trademark. I’m not saying a different brand could have saved the company, but “Radio Shack” contributed to, and is evidence of, a company without a coherent vision. The laundry list of Radio Shack’s abandoned strategies is extraordinary in its length, breadth, and depth.

I could talk about how the legal rights of descriptive marks are weak, like trying to defend your castle with a cardboard sword. In a rainstorm. I could explain how customers won’t remember you well enough to distinguish you from your competitors (“I can’t quite remember. It was bakery-something”). I could tell you that the value your mark has today is all it will ever have, an almost-ran from the day it was stillborn.

But I don’t have to tell you those things. I can just ask you when you last shopped at Radio Shack.

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