Walmart Asks: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

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I had to look twice when I was driving in Birmingham yesterday and drove past the local “Walmart Neighborhood Market.” Neighborhood market? Yes, it seems that the corporate giant is expanding yet again…this time with smaller stores. Now Walmart can compete with grocers in more crowded city centers that may not be amenable to its otherwise inexhaustible sprawl. The famous chain is known not only for its low prices but also for widespread criticism of its business practices — complaints that have made so much news as to warrant their own lengthy wikipedia page. But with this recent roll-out, Walmart has launched its latest crafty bit of marketing…this time to folks interested in the lower prices but without all the impersonal carnival-brand signage. With smaller square-footage and some green paint, the store has added a neighborly good cop to its supercenter bad cop. The all-caps font with a star was traded for a less imposing text and a flower/star hybrid in 2008, and long gone are the days of that excitable smiley face, the company instead opting for its “Save Money. Live Better.” trademark that made shopping about a lifestyle instead of a list.  And that’s really what turned my head yesterday… The marketing strategy seemed so obvious… but it also works. The store is reporting positive returns from its initiative. That’s not because the business model has changed. I’d suggest it’s because the visuals have. It’s why many shoppers prefer Target, with its more open feel, red theme, and quirky bull-dog. Both engage consumers and profits in roughly the same way, but Target doesn’t make its customers feel quite as claustrophobic doing so. And now, Walmart has caught on. Green instead of blue. Casual font instead of the capitalized store name. Friendly flower instead of assertive star. “Neighborhood market” instead of “Supercenter.” The revised branding methods bring with them a revised narrative for consumers, with all the local freshness a neighborhood market has to offer. After all, isn’t that how ideology works? And it can be all yours for a low price… guaranteed.

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