Saturday, November 05, 2005

All Wal-Mart, All The Time

I know I've been harping on WM lately, but its communication issues are quite political--especially when it comes its to health care policies and economic impact. Wal-Mart's latest PR initiative took the form of a quasi-academic conference held yesterday in the nation's capital at which were presented nine academic papers analyzing the retailer's effects on the economy. Independent economic research firm Global Insight solicited academics to present at Wal-Mart's behest, selecting only the highest-quality papers regardless of results (so they said, anyway). Global Insight also conducted its own WM-underwritten research study, which unsurprisingly reflected favorably on its subject.

It doesn't take a marketing expert to see the gooey public-relations center that lies beneath this event's thin academic veneer. Wal-Mart is hitting the same wall that the vast majority of non-totalitarian propagandists eventually encounter: the more readily identifiable the source of a propaganda message, the less effective the message. As soon as the public discovers it's an official WM-brand conference, any positive results automatically become suspect. This is why the Office of National Drug Control Policy has repeatedly tried to conceal its role in creating anti-drug media messages, and why you probably know the handiwork but not the name of the American Legacy Foundation. If Wal-Mart really wants to start changing large numbers of minds, it'll need to start taking account of this identity effect and thinking about the most intelligent ways to leverage its PR resources. I guess asking Congress to increase the minimum wage is a superficially decent attempt, except that it's difficult to see why the retailer would need the government to force it to do something it already has the power to do right now.