Wal-Mart Touts ‘Sam’s Dream’

DALLAS With its account in the midst of a controversial review, Wal-Mart is breaking a campaign touting corporate citizenship and old-fashioned values.

Under attack from labor groups and social activists for its employment practices, Wal-Mart is promoting the benefits of its lower prices, its expansion of the job market and the low cost of its health insurance for employees.

A pair of commercials in 30- and 60-second formats break this week, said company representative David Tovar.

In a spot called “Sam’s Dream,” Wal-Mart employees talk about the values derived from founder Sam Walton. The effort ends with the tag, “Sam’s dream, your neighborhood Wal-Mart.”

The spot claims that Wal-Mart saves the average working family $2,300 per year and includes a folksy male narration: “They say that when Wal-Mart comes to town, it’s like getting a nice pay raise.”

The other spot, “One Company,” claims that Wal-Mart has moved 150,000 uninsured Americans onto a company-sponsored health plan through their jobs. It also cites its insurance coverage for 1 million employees overall.

In something of an ironic twist, given the themes of the spots, the campaign was created by Blue Ray, a unit of Wal-Mart’s public relations firm Edelman. That shop generated plenty of negative buzz for the client late last year via a Web site purportedly maintained by fans of the chain, but which was actually generated by agency staffers.

Neither of Wal-Mart’s current ad agencies, Omnicom Group’s GSD&M of Austin, Texas, nor Kansas City, Mo.-based Bernstein-Rein, contributed to the current campaign, nor are they defending in the review, which could finish as soon as this week.

Wal-Mart is expected to select either WPP Group’s Ogilvy & Mather or Interpublic Group’s The Martin Agency for creative chores in a review that was reopened in December. DraftFCB, also owned by IPG, won an earlier contest, but was sacked amid considerable controversy. Media duties, won by Aegis Group’s Carat in October, are also in play.

Meanwhile, critics of Wal-Mart operating under the name WakeUpWalMart.com, lambasted the new image campaign, saying the company is in a “bizarre state of denial.”

“The truth is, despite Wal-Mart spending $1.6 billion on marketing and advertising, the American people are not buying Wal-Mart’s policies of shipping American jobs overseas, opposing health care for working families and lobbying against strengthening our nation’s port security,” said Chris Kofinis, a representative at WakeUpWalMart.com.

Wal-Mart’s marketing was also criticized by Goldman Sachs analyst Adrianne Shapira, who yesterday reduced her rating on the stock to neutral from buy.

In a research note, Shapira said Wal-Mart’s efforts to attract higher-end consumers while touting low prices has met with limited success in both areas. She called for management changes to fix the strategy.

“There are clear voids in marketing, and merchandising missteps suggest the need for some new talent,” Shapira wrote. “More leadership change means more strategy change, which all adds time to the turnaround.”