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January 2007



I'm inclined to agree with the idea that advertising is not going to convince people that the opposite of what they believe is true. Human psychology rebels against the thought that we're wrong. Wal-Mart has consistently acted in ways which have convinced people that it's heartless. However, people also believe that it's the cheapest place to shop. Both beliefs are not quite true- it's not always the cheapest, and I'm sure it's not always heartless either. It's seems to me Wal-Mart should emphasize and expand on the positive, 'cheapest' idea. Show us the benefits - single-handedly make energy efficient lights mainstream by driving the costs down and promoting the benefits. It could probably best fight the 'heartless' idea by stopping the actions which feed it. They'll never convince us they're not heartless by telling us so, but they could probably change our minds over time by changing their behavior and letting us figure things out for ourselves. But that seems unlikely since they seem pretty tone deaf in Bentonville.

Bruce Boyes

Interesting post. In it you said "Advertising cannot change a human mind". So I wondered, what is the purpose of advertising? And if it can't change the mind, how is it possible to still sell so many fast food cholesterol bombs, cigarettes, and other things we know are bad for us?

So, I googled and found a lot of articles, the best of which (in the 30 seconds allocated to the task) is this one, and I quote:

The authors said industry "is doing everything it can to encourage smoking." This is not surprising: every manufacturer of a legal product will do everything within the law to encourage use. As for the industry not acknowledging health consequences of smoking, is this necessary? Is there any teenager (the most vulnerable age for taking up smoking) in the United Kingdom who genuinely believes that smoking is good for health? Of course not.

What about mobile phones and health hazards? The public (mature adults, not teenagers this time) is puzzled about this issue, but would mobile phone companies advertise the health consequences of their product? No, of course not. Will mobile phone companies do everything to encourage use? Yes, of course.

There is probably no need to do research on the subject. Everyone knows that the purpose of advertising and marketing (regardless of the product) is to promote and sell a product. Is there any manufacturer in the world who spends money on advertising to encourage consumers to stop using its product? None, of course. So what is the point of any research? Simply ban advertising of any product that is detrimental to health.


So I guess your point is that Wal-Mart's 'advertising' can only be successful if it promotes use of a product. 'Advertising' which attempts to alter a corporate image can only fail.


Years ago when I was getting my master's in advertising, my class was tasked with developing a strategy to sell prunes. So we repackaged them. We cut them into shapes. We targeted them toward kids. We covered them with tasty coatings. We touted the potassium. We focused on the fiber. We camouflaged them in elaborate recipes.

We did everything short of pan-frying the suckers (in our strategies, anyway), not grasping the key learning of the entire exercise.

And that was... You can't change perception unless you change the product. Prunes are prunes, and no amount of focusing elsewhere is going to make a bowl of prune's laxative effect go away.

Wal-Mart can't change its image until it changes itself. The only way to make its underpaid, overworked employee problem go away is to pay them better and treat them fairly.

vlad macsuta

very good post. Now I am reading your father book about positioning. What are the next books that you recomend?

Mark True

Advertising is one of the last strategies we recommend to our clients in the busines-to-business marke because there are so many other ways to spend your money BEING your brand. The same is true for business-to-consumer marketing. Advertising is good at getting out news about sales or grand openings or product features, but that's about all.

The sad thing is that Wal-mart has the money to get some of the best minds in the business to help them discover a right path to a better brand...starting with the employee audience.


Nice pages here. Great information. Will visit again and recommend.


Walmart should concentrate on improving the culture for its employees. I get the feeling that the employees aren't very happy and it's more than low wages and non-existant benefits. If they focused on improving the culture, the word would spread. No one will ever take their claims of good will seriously, but they would definitely believe someone they know who works at Walmart. Although healthcare would be nice, there are many creative and inexpensive ways to boost the morale of its employees.


I totally agree Wal-mart should save the advertising money. Ikea has always been very good at using PR. They did have the same problems as Wal-mart nobody wanted to work in check-out since the wages are so low. What did ikea do they added around 900 dollars (DKK 5000) each month to their normal wage. What happened? Ikea got tons good PR. Worth much more than any ad would have generated. Now everyone what's to work in the check-out at ikea. Best of all even since it's a few years ago people are still talking positive about the initiative.

Mario Vellandi

Wal-Mart should raise some of its prices so it can have the extra cash for employees. There's no where else to get the money....their supply chain is one of the world's tightest and best. Their corporate culture is so cheap, vendors sit in plastic garden chairs while waiting to be seen in Bentonville.

Raising the price by even a meager 2 cents to match the lowest Target price, can make a difference

Neil Bull

Want a guaranteed way to lose faith in your brand? Be inauthentic.


David Carlson

Laura, thanks for an interesting post. There are so many (in other cases) excellent business executives and marketers that have such a trust in advertising. It seems like a lot of them still think that another ad will solve all kind of problems. But I wonder if they never talk to people? Will they find anyone that still will say that advertising is a credible way to deliver a message. I doubt...

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