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Online Marketing: A Cautionary Tale Featuring Walmart

Wal-Mart location in Moncton

Image via Wikipedia

One of the reasons that marketers are so jazzed about the internet as a marketing tool is that the web provides us with the ability to customize our message. No more wasted marketing.  Only talk to the people who you want to talk to. No more annoying people who don’t want to hear your message.  Win Win.  You communicate with people who want to communicate with you.

Except when you screw it up.  Today (November 10th)  I was happily playing an online puzzle game on MSN.ca.  Up pops a video commercial for Walmart advertising how much families can save shopping at Walmart for Thanksgiving.

Sounds great right? Except that I live in Canada.  Where we have Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October. Thanksgiving was a month ago.

(As a completely irrelevant aside, did you know why Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on a different date?  It turns out that we used to celebrate in November, like our American cousins until the early 1920s.  Thanksgiving then was a relatively minor holiday.  After world war one, we began to celebrate Remembrance Day on November 11th, in memory of the many fallen soldiers who fought in that war.  Since we entered the war very early, we had a lot of fallen soldiers.  Since Remembrance Day was so close to Thanksgiving, the decision was made to change the date of Thanksgiving).

Back to my original point. As a consumer, I expect that marketers will stream advertising relevant to me on any website, as they know that my IP address is located in Canada. If Walmart ships me video of an American holiday, my immediate assumption is that they are cultural imperialists who just don’t get Canada.  (Somewhat like Walmart’s screwup when they first entered Quebec, distributing an English language flyer from upstate New York.  Let’s just say that the language police were a little exercised about it).

So now I’m annoyed with Walmart.  But Walmart’s senior management should be annoyed to.  They just paid to expose me to advertising that is completely irrelevant to me. It just cost them a lot of money to piss me off.

Lesson one?  You need to have deep knowledge of the culture of each market you enter.  Lesson two? Pay attention to the details.  Lesson three? Consumers expect customization.  You can’t get away with blanket campaigns anymore.  Walmart, there’s no excuse for screwing this one up.  You’ve been in Canada for over ten years.  Whether you like it or not, Canadians are different.  So get over it.

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