As a Harvard Business School MBA, I learned that the leading edge of knowledge about the American psyche can be found in the back rooms of Madison Avenue. Other than the NSA, probably no group is more in tune with American desires than advertisers. They survey, they run focus groups, they look at what’s trending and what’s actually generating sales…and they put their bullets in the marketing guns that will win the battles for their clients.
This morning I opened my day-after-Christmas newspaper and the advertisement pictured below fell out onto my breakfast table.
Walmart, the largest retailer in the world, must, I strongly suspect, have one of the savviest teams of advertising people. They must have chosen the items on the cover of this multi-page insert because they felt these choices would connect strongly with American consumers. These products must be the best choices to entice the customers to pick up and read this one of more than a dozen similarly colorful inserts.
In the middle of the page is Hamburger Helper. My surmise is that Walmart knows that today’s consumer wants quick and easy solutions. I started to write housewife instead of consumer, but I kept the former when I realized much of Hamburger Helper’s market share is singles who simply don’t have the time, can’t make the effort, or don’t have the skills to prepare meals from scratch. And in today’s stagnant economy, where many of Walmart’s regular customers are strapped, out of work, or scraping by, Hamburger Helper becomes Mom’s home cooking when you can’t even afford to go out for fast food. The same logic applies to the can of Hormel chili. Grab a can opener…and dinner is served.
The hair products? That’s easy. We are constantly bombarded with advertising that promotes beauty and self-image as just about the most important concern for women. And of course, almost all of the readers of this insert will be women. Everyone needs shampoo…and this product is not too fancy or elite for regular people.
The vacuum cleaner stumped me until I read the fine print. It’s especially designed to pick up pet hair. Of course! We love our pets. And we spend a fortune on them. (full disclosure: I own a cat.) The pet industry estimates the 82 million American households that own pets will spend $55 billion on them in 2013. That’s $672/household. If you really love Fluffy, and she sheds, problem solved. What’s another $143.92?
Walmart did not get to be the biggest by being stupid. Maybe my analysis is incorrect; the only focus group I have access to is in my head…and it could be out of focus. But what does it tell you when the largest and most obvious images on this page are Mountain Dew and Pepsi? Carbonated sugar water and caffeine. Lots of caffeine. Clearly this says something about who we Americans are, if sugar and caffeine are the leads in Walmart’s carefully thought-out effort to draw us into their stores.