PR missteps continue to burn Wal-Mart

There's a rich tradition in this country of comparing one's political opponents to Nazis.

There's a rich tradition in this country of comparing one's political opponents to Nazis.

But there's an even richer tradition of it backfiring on the accuser, exposing him as a hyperbolic ass.

A perfect example: the comparison made by Wal-Mart this month when it ran a picture of a 1933 Nazi book burning in an ad urging defeat of an Arizona ballot initiative. If passed, it would uphold a new zoning law effectively outlawing big-box retailers in Flagstaff.

"Should we let government tell us what we can read?" the ad asked. "Of course not. ... So why should we allow local government to limit where we shop?"

The ad caused a citywide freakout, and anyone who's ever been to Flagstaff (motto: What Happens in Flagstaff Probably Happens at Open Mic Night) knows that's a scary prospect.

In a speedy retreat, Wal-Mart claimed the picture was an accident, that it slipped by without being properly researched. An apology from the retailer ran in the same newspaper on Sunday, calling the image "thoughtless and wrong."

But that's not really the point, is it? The point is that Wal-Mart, whether it knew the image featured Nazis or not, tried to defeat a local-ballot initiative by equating it with totalitarianism. But a zoning law put to a popular vote is hardly that, and a company already fighting a global bully complex should know not to use such heavy-handed tactics when fighting local shop owners.

Fact is, there are many valid reasons Flagstaff residents might want, or need, a big-box retailer. And early returns suggest the initiative was narrowly defeated.

But rather than appeal to the community's better senses, Wal-Mart chose to scare it silly. That's hardly how good neighbors introduce themselves.

  • Douglas Quenqua writes PR Play of the Week. He is PRWeek's news editor.

    Ratings:

    1. Clueless

    2. Ill-advised

    3. On the right track

    4. Savvy

    5. Ingenious

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