RadioShack ‘The Phone Call’ Advertisement Analysis

Since the 1960s, the field of advertising has experienced drastic changes, which have resulted in advertisements that are more innovative, smarter, and more complex than ever before. Even today, the legacy of these changes, known as the creative revolution of advertising, has continued to shape the creation of many ad campaigns. Among those most obviously influenced by these changes is the 2014 RadioShack Superbowl commercial, as it is geared toward consumers who are skeptical of advertisements in general, which characterized why the revolution initially began. Furthermore, this advertisement speaks to those who are highly critical of mass consumption and conformity, which, in the 1960s, sparked companies to employ many new tactics to gain consumers’ trust and have their products stand out from the other thousands of products in the market.

This RadioShack commercial is very self-aware and works to showcase the company’s authenticity because it explicitly makes fun of itself by stating that the “80s called and they want their store back.” By stating this in the advertisement, RadioShack is acknowledging that their practices and products are old-fashioned and that they need to improve to keep up with its intended consumers who are young and technologically-advanced people. This ad also shows that it is anti-establishment by recognizing that RadioShack uses many traditional methods but actually wants to go against the grain, and also be innovative and cooler than its competitors, who will continue to take the safe route and stay within the typical confinement of the establishment. Lastly, this advertisement is influenced by the creative revolution because it specifically appeals to “alienated spectators” by being clever and witty, referencing other common texts, and also by utilizing well-known figures with which media-savvy consumers can identify.

The RadioShack advertisement possesses many denotative meanings, which are its literal meanings. The commercial shows two men wearing RadioShack shirts followed by several people and characters coming into the room they are in and taking away all the items that are inside and then leaving with them. The scene that is created can be better understood when cultural assumptions and practices are projected onto it and thus the connotative meanings can be recognized. Through what is signified, the audience can interpret that the two men are RadioShack employees and when one states that the “80s called and they want their store back,” individuals that are iconic of the 80s era come in to take “their store” back. Among these people and characters are Hulk Hogan, Alf, the Chucky Doll, and Jason from the Friday the 13th movies, who each then signify other ideas and meanings, which is known as “chains of signification.” There were additional actors and singers that I was not familiar with, since I was born in the 1990s, which shows that the intended audience for this commercial is likely people in their thirties or forties, who can understand all of the referenced characters and figures. The other important signifiers are the items that the iconic figures took away from the store, which are signified as very outdated pieces of technology including large boxy computer monitors, old-fashioned radios and VCRS. Without knowledge of current technologies, viewers would not understand this established connotative meaning. In addition, the song “Working For The Weekend” by Loverboy is playing, which further illustrates and constructs the 80s feel and positions the audience in a nostalgic mood throughout the advertisement.

The RadioShack Phone Call commercial is very intertextual and self-referential, as it explicitly makes reference to dozens of figures that were prominent pop-culture icons in the 1980s. This works to form a relationship between the potential consumers and the RadioShack brand because RadioShack products and stores are now associated with very prominent and famous images. This advertisement is also an example of cultural cannibalism because it takes many aspects of 1980s culture and attaches their meanings to the RadioShack brand, which then changes the initial connotations when the brand “eats up” what the symbols and icons used to signify. RadioShack instead appropriates the images with new meanings and forms new associations for the audience to have when they come into contact with these images elsewhere.

Though this advertisement is quite original and innovative, it is still ideological in a number of ways. In their article “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning,” Goldman and Papson explain that advertisements are ideological because they socially and culturally construct the world, promote the normative vision of our world, and reflect the logic of capital. These concepts are illustrated in the final ten seconds of the commercial, where the “new” RadioShack is shown, the words “come see what’s possible when we do things together” are stated, and all the new technology products are shown behind the customers. This scene socially and culturally constructs a reality that consuming products and purchasing goods can enhance community and bring different people together. As a result, a capitalist society and consumer culture are explicitly promoted. In addition, the advertisement emphasizes how positive consumption can be, while ignoring that not everyone can afford to purchase new and expensive electronics from RadioShack just because RadioShack has changed its look and organization.

-Aimee S.

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