Wal-Mart Answers Critics with Web Site, Ads

  |  January 14, 2005   |  Comments

The retailing giant heads online to defend its brand.

Wal-Mart is answering critics of its labor policies with an extensive print ad campaign that points people to newly launched Web site walmartfacts.com. The effort is accompanied by a paid search campaign on Yahoo's Overture.

"For too long, others have had free rein to say things about our company that just aren't true," said Wal-Mart President and CEO Lee Scott in a statement. "Our associates are tired of it and we've decided it's time to draw our own line in the sand."

The print ads have begun appearing in more than 100 newspapers across the country, including USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

The creative, which takes the form of an open letter from Scott, invites people to "find out more at a Web site we are launching today -- www.walmartfacts.com."

Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer at Intelliseek, which measures consumer sentiment and buzz online, said using the Web is a good approach, but suggested Wal-Mart also incorporate walmartfacts.com into its other Web sites, including the consumer-oriented e-commerce one.

"If I were consulting with Wal-Mart, I'd say 'you'd better really turn your Web site into an offensive weapon', and I don't mean weapon in a pejorative way," he said. "If there are truly facts that are untold to the marketplace, that's really where the Web site is a good tool."

Though Wal-Mart didn't respond to requests for more information about its Internet strategy, the site appears at least partly aimed at remedying the retailers' image among journalists and its own employees. The site offers an extensive news section that includes fact sheets, backgrounders, a photo gallery and lists of media contacts. A "key facts" section of the site lays out Wal-Mart's position on ongoing class-action lawsuits, in which the retailer is accused of gender discrimination and failing to pay employees for all of the hours they've worked.

So far, Wal-Mart hasn't linked to the new site from its e-commerce presence, www.walmart.com, but it does link to walmartfacts.com from its corporate site. The company has also appears to have undertaken a paid search campaign on Overture. For a search on "walmart discrimination" the company had the first paid result. Creative reads, "Get the real story about Wal-Mart. Go to walmartfacts.com" and links to a section of the site dealing with diversity.

A search on "walmart lawsuit" also produced an ad -- again the first paid result -- that says, "Get the real story about Wal-Mart's lawsuits. Go to walmartfacts.com" and links to the section of the site dealing with the lawsuits. Other keywords employed include "walmart sexism," "walmart labor" and "walmart trade."

Blackshaw said Wal-Mart is one of the top two companies that generates unsolicited consumer feedback -- some of which is related to the retailer's labor practices. He points out that Wal-Mart, as the world's largest retailer, is naturally going to be a target for criticism.

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Pamela Parker

Pamela Parker is a former managing editor of ClickZ News, Features, and Experts. She's been covering interactive advertising and marketing since the boom days of 1999, chronicling the dot-com crash and the subsequent rise of the medium. Before working at ClickZ, Parker was associate editor at @NY, a pioneering Web site and e-mail newsletter covering New York new media start-ups. Parker received a master's degree in journalism, with a concentration in new media, from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

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