What Would Wal-Mart Do?

One of last week’s web sensations was People of Wal-Mart, a photo-blog featuring candid, mocking, in-store pictures of unusual Wal-Mart customers. The site is up and down thanks to its instant popularity, but think torn wife-beater shirts, mullets and the morbidly overweight. Here’s a nice quote from Associated Content:

What? No. Can’t be. Too simple. No way. Someone came up with a blog theme that 1) makes me laugh, 2) doesn’t cost me anything, and 3) raises my self-esteem, self-worth, and feelings of superiority over my fellow human beings (term used loosely)? “People of WalMart” is simply genius. Or cruel. Or genius.

Here are a couple of screenshots if the site is down, and there are photos on the associated Facebook page as well.

Julie pointed out that the blog isn’t really “People of Wal-Mart”, it’s “People of America”. The photos on the blog depict the country’s underbelly, not just the store’s.

Crisis Communications, Redneck Style

I tweeted about the site last week. In response, Patrick asked:

What would you do if you were Wal-Mart? Ignore/Encourage/Sic the hounds on these guys?

It’s a good question. The site is getting a lot of attention–reportedly “250,000 hits per hour”–and Time magazine covered it on their site. Siccing the legal team on a blog is rarely a good idea, so I’d wouldn’t take that approach. I certainly wouldn’t encourage the blog, either, as it’s clearly ridiculing Wal-Mart’s customers.

What other avenues do they have? Strike back with a ‘The Customers We Love’ blog on their own site? That seems like protesting too much. How about inviting some of these funny-looking punters to a media event? Not wise, as these people are certainly outliers, and you wouldn’t want to intimidate the more, shall we say, average customers.

When you get media inquiries, I think you reply with a statement about “being proud of all our customers”. Besides that, though, I’d go with “ignore, and hope it goes away”. That’s not really a winning strategy, but I can’t think of a better option. What would you do?

14 comments

  1. Darren what a great question. Legal team would be tough, it would only encourage it as an internet meme. Shutting down the website would force those pics into 1000’s of places instead of one.

    Fighting back with a positive website would only work if it had user content/video from average Walmart customers. Some type of video contest, but… it may open them up to more mocking etc.

    What about a “speaker’s corner” set up in big metro locations that would show a more diverse metropolitan customer base (or in a middle class suburb)? That could then be uploaded to the web.

    Goes back to one of my favorite web 2.0 trends: “the customer owns your brand” this is the underbelly of that trend.

  2. My above comment needs an addendum:

    This also says a lot about the human condition and the need to look down on others because they’re overweight, poor, or didn’t have a great education. The worse thing Walmart could do is try to sanitize their image and turn their back on those customers.

  3. One of my facebook friends sent me to the site and I immediately wondered what Walmart was going to do.

    I think the site owners might be able to get a way with a site called People of America or something more generic than targetting Walmart.

    There really isn’t a good way for Walmart to respond. If they get it shut down it’ll look like corporate bullying. They can’t embrace it because it’s their customers. If they ignore it though some of their customers might complain. I think they need to contact the site owners and politely ask them to change the name. Maybe even offer to help them with the new website and some better hosting.

  4. Rednecks and hicks, yucky fat working class America. Are you 12, or just mean? (And yes, it would be possible to write a post about this as a corporate communications case study without the snobbery.)

    1. Just mean, I guess. I intended ‘Redneck style’ in the heading as light-hearted. It’s hardly a slur, these days. Or else Gretchen Wilson ought to be ashamed.

      As for the tags, that’s actually got me thinking. I think to myself, “what’s this post about?” And, yep, it’s about portrayed as hicks and rednecks. It’s an interesting question, because I took care in the main post to treat those subjects neutrally. If I’d really want to be snobby, don’t you think I would have used more charged language than “torn wife-beater shirts, mullets and the morbidly overweight”?

      What words would you have picked? Because ‘working class America’ doesn’t adequately or accurately describe the photos on PeopleofWalmart.com.

  5. Here’s what I would do. I would come out swinging strong (!) affirming people of all sizes, shapes, socio-economic demographics. I would position myself as walmart for the people, by the people. The place where the many, many masses – the majority – of people who don’t fit the MadMen mold are provided price-points that acknowledge most people’s economic reality, and are offered respectful, caring service regardless.

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