Walmart Is Out To Change Its Story With New Ads

Walmart, in its first work from The Martin Agency of Richmond, Va., is changing its slogan from “Always Low Prices,” to “Save Money. Live Better.”

Walmart executives are saying that the new line is not just a slogan, but a four word mission statement for the retailer.

The new work features 30-second TV spots running day and night and on four fall-season premieres — “Dancing with the Stars,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Ugly Betty” — plus episodes this week of other prime-time shows.

It’s an interesting new line, written at a time when there is so much discussion about whether Walmart is good or bad for the country. We are amidst a crisis of confidence in anything coming to the U.S. from China—food, toys, clothes, etc. If you stripped goods made in china from the racks of Walmart, you could putt a golfball from one end of the store to the other without hitting anything. Too, at a time when so many workers are losing healthcare coverage to layoffs and off-shoring, Walmart is the poster brand for limiting the number of employees who qualify for healthcare coverage.

“Always Low Prices,” was always a benign descriptive slogan that befitted the brand, the store and the mission. The addition of “Live Better,” is obviously meant as a deal closer, conveying to the consumer, who may or may not be conflicted about shopping at Walmart, what they get out of those low prices. Ads to follow will, among other scenes, show what people can do with the $2,500 a year, or so, they save by shopping at Walmart, according to a study done by Global Insight. There is plenty of psychology at work here. Bashing Walmart for turning small towns into ghost-towns and contributing exponentially to the trade imbalance with China and India has become almost cliche. And as former Clinton Labor Secretary has pointed out: “Wal-Mart may have perfected this technique, but you can find it almost everywhere these days. Corporations are in fierce competition to get and keep customers, so they pass the bulk of their cost cuts through to consumers as lower prices. Products are manufactured in China at a fraction of the cost of making them here, and American consumers get great deals. Back-office work, along with computer programming and data crunching, is “off-shored” to India, so our dollars go even further.

“Meanwhile, many of us pressure companies to give us even better bargains. I look on the Internet to find the lowest price I can and buy airline tickets, books, merchandise from just about anywhere with a click of a mouse. Don’t you?”

“The fact is, today’s economy offers us a Faustian bargain: it can give consumers deals largely because it hammers workers and communities.”

In his new book, Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy and Everyday Life (Knopf, 2007), Reich writes: “Condemning Wal-Mart for not giving its employees better pay and health benefits may be emotionally gratifying but has little to do with the forces that have impelled Wal-Mart to keep wages and benefits low and bestow good deals on Wal-Mart’s customers and investors. Wal-Mart, like every other capitalist player, is, as I have emphasized, following the current rules of the game.”

To see what Walmart is about to embark on, look at McDonald’s, a very similar brand to Walmart. I’d be shocked if Martin didn’t draw parallels to the fast-fooder in its pitch. McDonald’s a few years ago fell into a dangerous trap of being a company that sells products we like under a brand more people were coming to loathe. McDonald’s sells fries we love, but it was a brand that stood for poor health and childhood obesity. Look at McDonald’s profits and share price lately? McDonald’s has changed the story. It sells the same fries and Big Macs, but the addition of fancy coffee (which is awful by the way), nicer stores and advertising freckled with messaging conveying Mom’s approval to eat at Mickey D’s has brought the brand around. “Live Better,” reminiscent of Lance Armstrong’s cancer survival “Live Strong” line, is Walmart’s attempt to change the story for consumers. And like McDonald’s, they may succeed. But there will still be some, maybe those night workers who get locked inside the store until their shift is done, for example, who will look up at that Live Better sign, and wonder what it all means. Then, they’ll go to McDonald’s for breakfast.