The Times Falls for Wal-Mart's "Authenticity"

The New York Times gave a boost today to Wal-Mart's effort to raise its coolness quotient. Its account of a new blog
that the giant retailer is allowing some of its merchandise buyers to
produce was filled with references to "candor," "speak[ing] frankly,"
and "uncensored rambling." Much is made of the fact that the posters
have made unflattering comments about some of the offerings of
Wal-Mart's suppliers. Wal-Mart is said to have learned its lesson from
earlier disasters with blogs created in the name of bogus front groups.
This new initiative, the Times assures us, is the real thing.

It is indeed the case that the site allows reader comments that are critical of certain company practices. For example, a posting
by an "associate" named Alex saying he might use spend his federal
economic stimulus check to purchase a TV or a laptop was followed by
comments on how that would do more to help the foreign economies where
such products are made. One person asked: "what happened to the
campaign WalMart used to run advertising its commitment to support
American manufacturers?"

Yet, it appears that the Times was hoodwinked by Wal-Mart.
The appearance of authenticity and candor is just another technique
used by advertising agencies and public relations consultants to win
over skeptical audiences.

As for those critical comments, it's significant that "Alex" thanked
all those who had corrected a spelling error in his post but had
nothing to say about the company's sourcing practices. In fact, that
the only real topic covered in the posts apart from product assessments
is "sustainability."

Those items are posted in the name of Rand Waddoups,
who is no lowly buyer but rather the company's senior director of
business strategy and sustainability. His part of the blog, at least,
fits in neatly with the company's dubious campaign to depict itself as
the environmental leader of the corporate world.

As I have previously noted,
Wal-Mart's green crusade places all the burdens on its suppliers, while
the moves taken by the retailer itself (improving energy efficiency,
etc.) are in fact nothing more than cost-cutting measures that boost
its bottom line. Until Wal-Mart makes some hard choices itself-such as
paying all its workers a living wage-nothing it does in the blogosphere
or elsewhere is going to be very authentic.

AMP Section Name:Retail & Mega-Stores

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