Wacky Wal-Mart.

August 26, 2005

A strictly dry company selling liquor at “always low prices” was one thing. But now Wal-Mart seems to be doing something even more off the wall.

Wal-Mart is going to have an eight-page advertising spread in September’s Vogue magazine. The fall issue of America’s premiere fashion magazine is not where Wal-Mart belongs. Wal-Mart and high-fashion? I don’t think so. It’s like mixing orange juice and milk. I can only assume someone must have spiked the punch at that meeting.

Here’s what Wal-Mart CMO, John Fleming, says on the decision to advertise in Vogue: “We chose to team up with fashion authority Vogue to show the female consumer that dressing fashionable is now easier to achieve than ever before.”

Wait a minute! Team up? Wal-Mart just bought advertising space. Advertising doesn’t give you credibility. Third party endorsement gives you credibility. Vogue did not decide to cover the latest trends off the Wal-Mart runaway. Vogue editors are not suddenly endorsing Wal-Mart over Prada. Vogue simply took Wal-Mart’s money and ran. (In fact, if I were Vogue I would have left the money on the table.)

Wal-Mart using advertising to become cool won’t work. You can’t use advertising to change a mind, it just doesn’t have the necessary credibility. When Wal-Mart advertises its low prices and friendly smile, consumers nod their heads and say “yes, yes, I should be saving money at Wal-Mart.” When Wal-Mart tries to broaden its message and claim that it has high-quality, high-fashion clothing, it doesn’t get that yes, yes response.

I suspect when Vogue readers see Wal-Mart’s ads next month, they will most likely just skip over them. Reading Vogue is not about what you can afford it is about what you can’t afford. And even if you do buy clothes at Wal-Mart you are not going to suddenly feel like it is high-fashion just because they ran advertising in Vogue. You buy clothes at Wal-Mart because they have low prices.

You can have fashionable clothes at low prices, but that position is already owned in the mind by Target. And Target didn’t get that position just by saying it was cool. Target owns that position in the mind by making its stores feel fashionable, by hiring fashionable designers, and by having fashionable celebrities like Oprah say it is “chic.”

Wal-Mart is the world’s biggest retailer. They are big, profitable and have been able to expand into other areas like groceries (where price is king) quite nicely. But I don’t believe the mighty Wal-Mart will ever break into fashion. It is simply too much in opposition to the brand’s core identity. Not to mention a strong competitor like Target, who is already the fashion king, blocking its way.