Walmart sells stuff at very low prices. That's the very simple idea that the corporation has worked extremely hard to cultivate and its success in delivering on their low-price promise is the very reason that a small store in Arkansas can grow into the world's largest retailer. Of course, achieving perfection at passing savings along to consumers requires sacrifice from many different stakeholders. However, it's popular opinion that Walmart's non-management employees working in the store every day sacrifice the most for savings. Store employees are paid too little so few can pocket every last penny of the remaining fortune. Employees don't receive proper benefits and the working conditions are not what they should be. In general, there is zero glamor in working at a Walmart. Like it or not, these powerful sentiments are symbolic of the Walmart brand and provide real reasons people choose not to buy from Sam.
For Walmart, battling this negative perception is more difficult when reality is obvious to consumers. The world's largest retailer is in the nation's highest court, arguing to prevent six former employees from organizing millions more in their gender discrimination suit. Although the Supreme Court is not ruling on the merits of the sexual discrimination lawsuit itself, any controversy in this area greatly affects Walmart's image. In my opinion, any highly publicized court case brought on by former employees is one big anti-Walmart advertisement. This case, just like any effective advertising, reinforces an idea that people already believe to be true: Walmart mistreats employees.
Walmart's perception problems could get worse before they get better. If the court upholds the class certification of the women, Walmart is going to have to endure a rerun of its very public attack ad when the sexual discrimination merits of the case are heard. Regardless of the outcome of that potential case, the very idea of millions of women banding together to fight their one time employer is more devastating than any potential dollar amount that they risk losing in court.
The power to influence is the motive behind all advertising. This power only grows in magnitude when the realities our human experience are reinforced. For Walmart, the reality of facing millions of lawsuits or even just one as big as the chain itself are equal indications of a problem; a very grim human experience for its employees.
This post appeared on Talent Zoo Media's Beyond Madison Avenue in its original form, minus the alternate ending.