Monday, June 24, 2013
Will Wal-Mart's desperate advertising campaign save them?
Late last year Wal-Mart was involved in a growing number of scandals that included the fact that they were implicated in the fire in a garment factory in Bangladesh and that their workers were striking in unprecedented numbers and there were many other problems including additional Black Friday riots that seem to be an annual occurrence. This was months after Adam Hartung claimed that WalMart's Mexican Bribery Scandal Will Sink It Like an Iceberg Sank the Titanic. Of course that was a year ago and Wal-Mart hasn't sunk yet; but something with as big a presence as Wal-Mart doesn't disappear overnight.
However I suspect Wal-Mart is almost certainly in much more trouble than they would lead most people to believe. During the first few years of the century the increase in same store sales was declining each year. In 2011 there were several reports about Wal-Mart same store sales being down for seven straight quarters, which may have been unprecedented. It has been hard to get a clear look at exactly how much sales they have been getting but in February there was a big uproar about a leaked E-Mail that claimed that they had the worst sales in seven years. This was quickly followed by a retraction that claimed it was taken out of context, but the retraction didn't seem to have any credibility.
More recently another factory in Bangladesh collapsed and initially they claimed that none of the merchandise was authorized to be produced there but after the commercial press began to forget it the alternative media reported that some of there merchandise almost certainly was produced there through a contractor that didn't work directly for Wal-Mart, which seems to be the new normal for plausible deniability purposes; and they have had additional protests and strikes in California, Florida and Massachusetts. I could easily go on much more about the enormous amount of problems they have and have in past posts under the author tag Wal-Mart Watch, and so have many other people.
Now Wal-Mart has come up with a larger advertising campaign that they call “The Real Walmart,” and judging by the way Dale Buss is covering it in a Forbes article, "It's About Time Walmart Waged An Ad Campaign Like This One," some people might get the impression that their advertising campaign might include the coverage that is given to it in the business press although some of the other articles about it aren't quite as flattering they often save the criticism for the end and present it in a manner that seems in doubt. the same might go for statements from many politicians and celebrities including many that have collected campaign contributions from Wal-Mart or sponsored them in other ways. It is hard to imagine a rational person taking Tom Cruise's and Hugh Jackman's performance at the recent shareholders meeting seriously.
There is just one problem with this advertising campaign; the closer you check the facts with sources that aren't receiving incentives from Wal-Mart the more obvious it will be that these ads are mostly if not entirely exaggerations, selective claims, hype or out right lies.And these lies cost an enormous amount of money that can't be going into the quality of their merchandise.
If they continue to send their advertising and lobbying expenses through the roof while cutting manufacturing expenses to the bone their merchandise will continue getting even crappier and people will notice, no matter how much hype they buy!
One of their spots is about a young worker that says "when people look at me I hope they see someone working their way" p along with a lot of claims about how they're providing him with educational opportunities and many other things; but if you check with the Wal-Mart employees that have been striking or look at the enormous amount of complaints that have been circulating on many forums including "Complaints from Wal-Mart Employees" at Consumer Affairs. Another spot shows people that claim they're "an American success story;" there are just as many complaints about how low the quality of the merchandise is and an enormous amount of it falls apart in a fraction of the time that many products used to last. They don't save money if the customer has to replace basic times like jeans, sneakers, toasters etc. at least three or four times as often as we used to.
An additional ad is about their "super-efficiencies," as Dale Buss refers to it; this claim has been repeated over and over again but it is very selective and quickly falls apart when considering a few relatively simple facts. They have created an efficient system to transport and distribute things all over the world but the system we had thirty years ago included a lot more factory direct and it produced much better quality merchandise. what they have done "efficiently" is learn how to ship an enormous amount of low quality and often defective merchandise half way around the world instead of shipping a smaller amount of high quality merchandise a much shorter distance. Another major problem with their "super-efficiencies," is the fact that we now have much more retail space per person than we ever had before and that has to be maintained. In addition to that there is an enormous amount of retail space that has been abandoned which is dragging down many communities. None of these inconvenient facts are considered when describing their "super-efficiencies," which are basically a myth based primarily on propaganda and selective use of facts. They may do some thing efficient but they're mostly things that should have to be done at all.
The list of things that they misrepresent go on and on, including their claims to protect the environment by reducing packaging on things like deodorant or putting solar panels on their roofs. These actually are steps in the right direction but for every one step in the right direction they take many more in the wrong direction. It is hard to claim that they're environmentally friendly when they have led the way in shutting down local manufacturing of items that last much longer and replacing it with factories half way around the world where they don't have to worry about environmental damage and they have to ship much farther dramatically increasing the amount of oil used to produce and transport things and then they fall apart so they have to be replaced much more often. And this doesn't include past settlements about disposing of toxic waste and many other things.
Another claim is that their produce is as fresh as the local farmers market or that their steaks are as fresh as a steak house in Tennessee.
This claim was thoroughly reviewed by "Food and Water Watch" in Why Walmart Can’t Fix the Food System. They have indicated many problems one of the biggest is the fact they have centralized control of everything in Arkansas and local people have little or nor authority to correct things when they see problems. Everything is done on a massive scale so when mistakes are made they're repeated over and over again.
The New York Times first reported about their plans to buy local in 2010, Wal-Mart to Buy More Local Produce, this claim involved plans to doubt their local produce to 9% which is still a small amount and it doesn't seem to take into consideration the season. At least when it comes to produce people who buy from local farmers markets can get much more fresh produce in season and they can find out more about where it comes from. Wal-Mart can never match this dispute their adverting to the contrary. This was clearly indicated in April of this year, three years after their claims that they will dramatically improve their system, when The United Food and Commercial Workers reported on "Walmart Falling Flat with Not-so-Fresh Foods." This is just one of many reports including Walmart Fruit Still Rotten in Spite of Commercial Plug and New Freshness Campaign. The more people spot these problems while they're running these deceptive ads the less people will trust Wal-Mart ads. They don't even mention the enormous amount of pressure many of the farm workers are under to produce their products as fast and cheap as possible which leads to lower quality just like any other product.
This type of propaganda, which is what their ads should be considered since they use the same tactics as propaganda, isn't limited to Wal-Mart of course; it appears to be dominating the entire commercial media system which is essentially a system that practically sells the right to tell the "truth" to the public but most of their versions of the "truth" rarely if ever hold up to scrutiny.
Wal-Mart probably isn't even the worst offender, although if you exclude the energy companies they might be, and they do a lot to indirectly increase the enormous amount of energy we use for the same products that were made locally thirty years ago.
The oil companies have spent an enormous amount of money providing propaganda that is still even more than the amount of advertising that Wal-Mart has been putting out even after the recent increase in Wal-Mart's presence on TV. One of the biggest advertisers is of course BP which has spent a lot of money to tell us about how their "commitment has never been stronger;" this includes a career story of Jon Parker, who is one of their safety advisers. He has apparently been with BP for twenty five years. It shouldn't take much thinking to realize that if he was as good as they lead us to believe at advising on safety then the BP oil spill never would have happened.
Other sources that receive far less coverage in the commercial media provide much better reporting on the oil companies as well including "Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power," which isn't always as extensive as it could be but it does cover some of BP's poor record on safety before the oil spill. In it Steve Coll describes how Exxon also had a poor record before the Exxon Valdez but then they clamped down on safety after that for a long time but even that seem to have deteriorated. in the past ten years they have had an increasing amount of oil spills including in Jacksonville Maryland, Montana, Arkansas, a big one in Nigeria and many more that haven't been reported as widely either because they might not be as big if they're in the US or because they simply don't cover them as well if they're in other countries that have little or no political power.
Prior to this spill BP's record was even worse. you don't hear this mentioned over and over again in the commercial media so you might not get the impression that it happened at all although if you watched Rachel Maddow in 2010 you might have caught it when she reported "Maddow uncovers BP Gulf recovery propaganda"
However if you didn't make a point to remember it then you might have forgotten it assuming you even caught it in the first place, which I didn't. After the spill passed from the headlines they stopped mentioning it but the propaganda is being repeated over and over again. the same will almost certainly go for the recent and brief disclosure that Alberta has had an enormous amount of oil spills over the past 37 years including an average of two spills every day and an exceptionally large one recently that drew attention to it. she failed to mention that this is typical of many areas without many people with political power and that there are many, many more of these all over the world. If past is prologue then they will quickly drop this while the oil company propaganda is repeated over and over again. One thing they fail to mention is that although they're spending an enormous amount of money on this propaganda they have also been doing what they can to cut their damages as much as possible according to several stories including BP Says Spill Settlement Terms Are too Generous.
The more they run these propaganda ads the more many of us might wonder why they don't use the money for reparations or improved safety.
Clearly many corporations, including Wal-Mart and BP, are much more concerned about convincing us that they're benevolent than actually being benevolent.
One of the Complaints from Wal-Mart Employees listed on Consumer Affairs may indicate one of the problems that may have led many people to dislike Wal-Mart and find them offensive. Someone claimed that Wal-Mart was trying to find an excuse to fire his mother and they claimed that she "chased a customer down in the parking lot to see their receipt." He goes on to say that she doesn't do this because "The store manager made her stop checking the receipts over a year ago when they purged most of the door greeters so there is no way she would now be chasing customers for theirs." This practice is one that I rarely ever saw with the possible exception of when they had reason to suspect that someone was shoplifting, with one exception. In 2010 after receiving a gift card I made several trips to Wal-Mart over the winter and on one of those occasions after leaving the register and heading the relatively short distance to the door someone lurched from one side towards me and said something which at first I didn't understand. Then he muttered something about seeing my receipt and said it's OK you have it in your hand. As he did this he had his eyes averted and didn't look me directly in the eye, nor did he take the time to look closely at the receipt, and then as soon as he was done he lurched away just as fast and asked someone else for there receipt.
He was checking everyone's receipts as if all their customers were potential shoplifters without reason to suspect anyone. By avoiding eye contact it was clear that he seemed like he was little embarrassed to be doing this and he almost certainly got a lot of complaints about it. The only reason that I didn't complain about it is because it happened so fast that I was too surprised to complain and by the time I realized what he was doing he was off so I just moved on. The only time I had ever seen something like this before was when I bought a small appliance once and as I went through the door there was a beep which I wondered about briefly before moving on only to be followed by three employees, running, who asked to see my receipt; apparently the sensor they were supposed to remove from the appliance wasn't removed properly. One of them was the cashier who knew I paid for it and they were all as bashful as this guy seemed, presumably because they almost certainly had numerous problems with false accusations as a result of this corporate policy that is insulting to paying customers; and the employees that are supposed to follow orders probably don't like it either.
I didn't think about it for a while but recently I received another gift card and went there at about the same time of day and week. If they had someone checking receipts now he wouldn't have had to lurch back and forth to check them because there weren't nearly as many customers there and I probably wouldn't have even remembered it if I didn't notice how fast he had to run back and forth to check receipts.
They are almost certainly losing a lot more business due to their bad reputation; another sign that this might be true is that they rarely if ever use their smiley face logo anymore. On most occasions when I see a smiley face logo in relation to Wal-Mart it is almost never complimentary and it is being presented by their critics.
In order for all this propaganda to have an impact it would be much better if it was at least somewhat close to the truth which it isn't and only the most mindless or complacent people might not recognize this.
Also successful propaganda has to avoid scrutiny and prevent others from getting their views across. Wal-Mart may have succeeded in keeping most of the criticism out of the press and the political discussion by pundits; but they haven't kept it out of alternative outlets and the grass roots levels which most people almost certainly trust much more.
If they have to spend too much of their money on propaganda political contributions and what must be a surprising amount of amount of money for "consultants" that seem to be doing a lot of work for Wal-Mart and often get caught only to have Wal-Mart claim that they did this or that on their own, not to mention the enormous amount of money they have to spend on shipping since they no longer get much if anything nearby then they won't have much money to spend on their actual merchandise and it will continue to be crappy and their reputation for selling crap will only get worse.
The number of people who shop at Wal-Mart because they don't have many if any other options is high and many of them don't like it. If they have better options they're much more likely to take them; if they don't and enough people are outraged by them then they're much more likely to act on it and Wal-Mart is going to pay the price for this sooner or later and it is almost certainly going to be sooner considering how many scandals have been reported on them and how much opposition they have already received. Adam Hartung's claim that WalMart's Mexican Bribery Scandal Will Sink It Like an Iceberg Sank the Titanic hasn't come true yet but with an institution that has as many stores as Wal-Mart it can't disappear overnight. Adam Hartung attempts to claim that Wal-mart's problems aren't grass roots organizing efforts, instead they're their business model; but he is a writer for Forbes magazine and might be inclined to defend the business status quo even though he is one of the rare business writers that criticizes Wal-Mart.
This is almost certainly false and if the grass roots organizations recognize this they can do their part to make sure that the business' that follow Wal-Mart don't resume many of the same practices as soon as the public is complacent again.
The following are some related articles that raise more doubts about their advertising campaign or other related material.
Walmart Fires Back At Best Buy, Toys R Us, Defends Ad Campaign
Wal-Mart Ads Tout 'American Success Story' (WSJ)
Walmart's New 'Real' Ad Campaign Hopes to Highlight Chain's Goodwill (Hype)
Ct Consumer Claims WalMart Advertising Falsely
Shoppers accuse Walmart of false advertising (Black Friday hours)
China accuses Wal-Mart of 'deceptive prices'
Wal-Mart Beats False Ad Suit Over Joint Health Supplement
Support The Local Produce Grower: Walmart false advertising on fruits and vegi's
Why is Michelle Obama praising Wal-Mart in Springfield, Mo.?
Rivals: Walmart Plays Loose With the Truth
Walmart Advertising Report
Is Walmart Finished in New York? Greg David Seems to Think So, and That’s Bad for Walmart