Thursday, September 24, 2009

Welcome to Wal-Mart: Come As You Are

BusinessWeek, back in 2007, offered the following explanation of Wal-Mart's shift from its longstanding slogan "Always Low Prices" to "Save Money. Live Better."

"Always Low Prices,” was always a benign descriptive slogan that befitted the brand, the store and the mission. The addition of “Live Better” is obviously meant as a deal closer, conveying to the consumer, who may or may not be conflicted about shopping at Walmart, what they get out of those low prices.

It was a shrewd move on Wal-Mart's part, as the economy started circling the top of the toilet bowl the very next year, and next thing you know, Wal-Mart was on everyone's radar. People who had treated Wal-Mart with such disdain, never giving it a second thought, were suddenly clipping coupons and buying Faded Glory jeans. People who maybe had never considered the thrill of saving money were captivated by the allure of staying afloat while still . . . living better.

And to these people, the rest of us extended a hearty welcome.

"Come on in!" we said. "Join us for some popcorn chicken in the deli and the clearance rack in the bakery!" And they reacted as if they found the Holy Grail. We watched them on local news reports and read about their plight in the newspaper. "We're really having to cut back. We're clipping coupons and buying clothes at Wal-Mart instead of at the mall."

And all of us just smiled. Apparently, we were doing something right -- something noble -- all along. They wanted to be like us. We were smart AND popular. But THEN, they started looking around and asking themselves, "Where do all these people come from? Am I really shopping alongside this?"

Thanks to cell phones and this new shopping sector's heightened sense of awareness in our "Live Better" world, our inboxes and a certain website are filled with all sorts of images that we, frankly, have never really considered. And if we could be completely honest here? We're a little scared.

I've never given any thought to what I wear to Wal-Mart, and now I'm concerned I might end up on this site or as an e-mailed image.

I once drove to Wal-Mart at 3 a.m. after leaving the emergency room, carrying a list of supplies I needed for a condition that I won't go into. Wearing my husband's t-shirt, sleep pants, a hospital bracelet and Band-Aids on my arms, I placed a bottle of carbonated sodium-something-or other and various other recommended accoutrements on the conveyor belt. The clerk looked at my purchases, eyeballed me up and down, then asked, "You having a procedure?"

I just wiped my brow with my palm and said, "What makes you ask?"

This sort of thing doesn't happen at Nordstrom's.

But today, in 2009, would I feel safe entering Wal-Mart dressed like this? Not likely.

Maybe as we climb out of this recession, the newbies will be gone, and the fascination with Wal-Mart shoppers' clothing and hairstyles will fade and we can go back to our ways, undisturbed, unkempt, unafraid of being photographed.

Because true Wal-Mart shoppers don't give a flip about Living Better. We're more about . . . Come As You Are.

There. There's your new post-recession slogan, Wal-Mart ad agency. Come. As. You. Are.