Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why Wal-Mart Is Paying Me to Shop Their New Store - Update

Pullman's new Wal-Mart Supercenter seems to be doing SUPER business.

I took half an hour this afternoon to drop by the new store to try to gauge community response to our newest business neighbor on its opening day.

There was a steady stream of cars entering and leaving the parking lot. At the entrance I used, it was a bumper-to-bumper crawl, like an ant colony marching in columns to and from a feeding frenzy.

The gigantic parking lot was full.

Based on what I saw and heard during my short visit, Wal-Mart's Pullman store will likely exceed the $300K they'd projected for their first day in business. All nineteen front-end registers were at least 4-5 customers deep at 4:15 pm and showed no sign of slowing. I went to the Jewelry department to purchase a replacement for a watchband that broke yesterday; three or four co-eds were ahead of me at the register, checking out purchases from departments other than Jewelry, hoping to shave a few minutes off their visit.

Undoubtedly, it was "baptism of fire" day for more than a few Wal-Mart associates, but they were handling the pressure with grace and smiles on both sides of the cash registers.

When it comes to combining capitalism and consumerism, Wal-Mart is the world's 800-pound gorilla.

Welcome to our new zoo.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Why Wal-Mart Is Paying Me to Shop Their New Store

The day after tomorrow, our long-awaited $14 million Wal-Mart Supercenter opens its doors.


It's been six years since Wal-Mart announced their intention to build a new store here in Pullman, Washington.

Most folks in town - consumers, business owners, civic leaders, etc. - welcomed Wal-Mart's announcement, anticipating a much-needed boost to our local economy directly and indirectly, as new businesses open nearby, seeking to benefit from all the new traffic brought in by the behemoth.

Predictably, a vocal minority of Wal-Mart haters - university profs and poseurs proposing to tell me where I should and should not spend my own money - mustered their troops and managed to delay the inevitable by a few years. Their polarizing antics cost our fair city several years' worth of tax revenues from Wal-Mart, estimated by some to be as much as $500,000 per year.

But that's all behind us now. Today, local residents received in the mail a five-dollar Wal-Mart gift card. No strings attached. Just activate your card, then come in and spend it like cash.

Can you think of a surer way to get people to come in and sample the store?

In 1923, Claude Hopkins - considered by many to be the father of modern advertising - wrote that "(t)he product itself should be its own best salesman. Not the product alone, but the product plus a mental impression, and atmosphere, which you place around it. That being so, samples are of prime importance. However expensive, they usually form the cheapest selling method."

So, Wal-Mart is tapping a tried-and-true technique to introduce local shoppers to their new Supercenter. What will happen? Customers by the thousands will enter the new store for the first time and redeem their $5.00 gift cards. One suspects that more than a few members of the anti-Wal-Mart crowd, despite their posturing, will be among them (though undoubtedly they'll limit their purchases to five bucks, just to give 'em what-for.)

Wal-Mart will measure the effectiveness of their "sampling" program by the tens, more likely hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional purchases made by these same customers this week, and in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

Wal-Mart's associates have received extensive training to ensure that they make each customer feel welcome, even special. Wal-Mart's consumer researchers and merchandise buyers have seen to it that their shelves are stocked with stuff people want to buy, at prices they're willing to pay.

To the extent that their customers' expectations are met or exceeded, the new Wal-Mart Supercenter will thrive. Call it capitalism, free enterprise, or laissez faire with a dash of caveat emptor, I wouldn't trade ours for any other system on earth.

Friday, October 15, 2010


The Friday Poll Question for members of Radio Sales Café was a two-parter:

1) What percentage of your advertisers voice their own ads?

2) What are your thoughts on having clients doing their own voicework?

Some stations said "zero." Others reported that 15-20% or more of their clients did their own ads. My answer was decidedly, and perhaps remarkably, on the high end: two-thirds of my top local clients voice all or most of their own commercials!

Of these, most read from scripts. They have been doing this for so many years that they're for the most part quite comfortable at the microphone.

Admittedly, I'm a fairly driven coach; I've been called a "harsh taskmaster" by more than one client in this regard. I have no problem requiring repeated readings or "takes," until I have sufficient material to piece together an effective spot.

Former Los Angeles radio production whiz Blaine Parker, who now operates a boutique advertising agency/creative services company atop a mountain in Park City, UT, is adamant about the conditions under which he allows his clients to get near a mic. He says:

We're a general agency, and at the moment, we have two clients on radio. One of those clients is voicing his own commercials. The other client has testimonials. Both campaigns were produced exactly the same way: non-professional voice talent sitting behind a microphone, answering relevant questions about the business and what it means to be a customer. Then, those extemporaneous recordings are cherry picked and massaged to create glowing sound bites. When we know what the performer is saying via the magic of non-linear digital editing, we write announcer wraparounds.

That is just about the ONLY way we ever let clients voice their own commercials.

When you hand them a script and crack the mic, most clients' voiceover sound like exactly what it is: amateur product. Sometimes, that can be endearing and work in their favor. Too often, it just sounds bad. If it must be done that way, there are simple tricks to directing them that make them sound much better. But overall, I try to never make a client read a script or carry the entire weight of the voiceover on his shoulders. Whenever possible, I record him extemporaneously and pull out the nuggets. It's more real than anything we could ever write, and it presents the client in the best, most flattering light possible.

I would tend to agree with Blaine's approach: record conversations and extract the gold. It's a time-consuming and painstaking process, a labor of love that typically results in an exceptional and effective commercial. This is the only technique I employ when creating testimonial campaigns, and it's a great way for an advertiser to tell his story, one nugget at a time.

Do my clients have the training and polish of voice actors? Of course not. Nor is it important that they do.

In the context of a local market where they are known by many, what's important is that they come across as who-they-are, doing what-they-do, that they sound authentic and credible, and that the content of their communication meets their customers' needs. When all these factors line up, the results speak for themselves*.

Now, I don't disagree with Blaine's analysis for the most part, based on the fact that too many client-voiced commercials one hears seem to have been done hastily and without critical analysis. Whether due to a lack of education or training, a lack of time or effort, or a lack of concern, there's no good reason to settle for second-rate work. But the salesperson, producer and client must be of the same mind on this, each willing and able to invest the time and effort to persist until it's right.

Either do it well or don't do it at all.

It's interesting how attitudes toward client-voiced ads have changed over the past couple of decades. Today the practice is widely accepted. When I first started pushing for clients appearing in their own commercials back in the late 1970's, most radio programming and production people resented it as an incursion onto their sacred turf. Their attitude was not unlike what we encountered from the education establishment when the home-schooling movement began to gain some momentum in the late 1980's. These days, the accumulation of success stories has demonstrated the merit of both ideas.

*Here are three examples from campaigns currently on the air in our small market. One is relatively new, having started this past summer. Two have been on the air for over a decade. Are they "airworthy?" Listen, then decide.




Sales trainer Jim Williams used to say that the real proof a campaign is working is that the advertiser continues to pay his monthly bill, year after year. Folksy, perhaps, but true nonetheless.

Which clients are doing their own commercials successfully on your station? (Comments at RSC here.)