Wal-Mart's starting to speak up - but to whom?

You may have noticed that Wal-Mart launched an advertising campaign across the United States today, designed to hit back at their critics and fill some of the news hole with facts about their operations, staff and overall impact on the economy. CEO Lee Scott hasn't enjoyed the continuing opposition tactics deployed by community and labour activitists in towns, counties and countries around the world: "I liken it to being nibbled to death by guppies," he told WSJ.com.

The campaign includes an open letter from Scott printed in 100 newspapers touting the benefits Wal-mart brings to store associates and communities, and includes a complementary website, www.walmartfacts.com, stuffed with human interest stories and frank economic facts. Personal growth stories from store associates, details about benefits packages, and a town by town breakdown of operations: they're all there.

Hmm. There's more information than you would expect from an international retail giant. Local and regional operations are identified explictly, and are often linked to news releases citing the company's benefits to the community.

It makes sense. After all, if a brand is being demonized with generalizations and sweeping condemnations (not to mention valid class action lawsuits), an appropriate tactic is to personalize the organization, from individual associates and stores upward.

Scott touched on this community strategy in a Q&A with USA Today:

    Q: Who are you trying to reach with these ads?

    A: There are many aspects to the communications. One of them is in these national, recognizable papers that have a broad audience. But there's also a concerted effort at a very local level ... where our customers and associates really are.

And don't forget the city councillors, selectmen, county executives, state legislators, governors and members of Congress!

There's nothing like a nice set of Wal-mart facts, illustrated with pictures of happy associates, to remind them where their bread is buttered!