Failing to get the memo that it's 2008, Wal-Mart has decided to get even more aggressive in battling the 'pre-mature' leakage of their Black Friday circular ads.  The Bentonville, AR retailer is not only going after the sites that post the circulars, but the search engines that link to and index the sites.

Search Engine Journal
reports on this, and like most sane people, wonders why Wal-Mart is so opposed to having such a rush of attention pushed to their stores.  Because in these tight economic times, wouldn't the retailer want to create more buzz for its biggest sales day of the year?

And as you would also expect, when sites started receiving letters from Wal-Mart demanding the circulars be taken down, of course they posted them.  One passage from a takedown notice sent to states that the site report that the posted circulars "reflected inaccurate pricing information", and also added that the site had to tell Wal-Mart who gave them the circular.

Memo to Wal-Mart:  The quickest way to get people to talk about you online, is to attempt to stop people from talking about you online.  Before, you were going to have a buncha sites post your circular and in the process, promote your store's specials, and drive more people to your stores more stuff.

Now, you risk coming off as a ham-handed clueless big company that is totally out of touch with your online customers. 

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November 20, 2008

Mack Collier is a social media consultant, trainer and speaker. He has been actively immersed in social media since 2005, and in that time, has helped advise, teach and consult with businesses of all shapes and sizes on how they can better connect with their customers via these amazing tools and sites. While being passionate about the social media space, what truly excites Mack is the human connections that can result from the proper use of these social tools. His motto is "Don't focus on the tools, focus on the connections that the tools help facilitate." His goal is to help his clients create those connections with their customers, and nuture them into relationships that help grow their bottom line.

His social media 'homebase' is The Viral Garden, which in 3 years time Mack has grown into an influential marketing/social media blog with a monthly readership of over 175,000. He is also a frequent contributor to the website Marketing Profs, as well as the marketing blog Daily Fix, and small business blog Search Engine Guide. His writings have been referenced in several mainstream publications and websites, including The Washington Post,, Ad Age, CNET, and The Boston Globe.

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Go get em Walmart. I love it when the corporate giants start to get tough.

Walmart, again, has mismanaged a great opportunity to boost sales AND its abysmal reputation. I wonder, will the company also go after Google, Yahoo, Live Search and every other SE out there because they crawled the sites posting the circulars? Eghads - you'd think Walmart would have something better to do.

Like getting their act together.

Oh cool! Thanks for the props, Mack. :D

Toput this all in perspective, if I were Wal-Mart, I would soooooo be suing you, Google and Technorati right now!

Great post, as always.

At the risk of incurring the wrath of the anti-corporate crowd, I'm gonna have to side with Wal-mart (sorta) on this one.

While their response might have been a little clumsy and the backlash more than they bargained for, Wal-mart is entirely within its right to decide WHEN and HOW it's marketing and advertising materials are distributed.

Yes, Wal-mart could have benefited from some positive Web buzz from the ad leak, but at what cost? There's something to be said for keeping your powder dry. If the boost in sales from an early leak is LESS THAN the boost in sales they could have gotten had the ad run on schedule, it's a loss.

When you invest millions of dollars in advertising as Wal-mart does, it's fair to be upset when someone circumvents your strategic decisions.

Out of touch with customers? Maybe, but Wal-mart's response wasn't directed at customers -- it was directed at websites that profit from increased traffic. Wal-mart COULD have capitalized on this leak, but I'm not sure they could have recovered what they lost when someone else pulled the trigger on THEIR advertising campaign.

Yes, Wal-mart will learn a lesson here (I hope). But let's not skewer ONLY Wal-mart. Somebody else was out of line here, too...they're just not as easy a target.

Scott you're exactly right that Wal-Mart has every right to be upset about their ads being posted. And you're exactly right that 'Black Friday' sites try to post these ads cause they want to spike their traffic, which is monetized.

But the question I have is, why would Wal-Mart want to stop these sites from running these ads early? Were they going to LOSE sales because these sites published their specials before they were ready to see them published?

Again, WM was completely in the right to ask for the sites to pull the circulars. I just don't think it was very smart, is all.

Walmart would want to stop sites from early posting of the ads because it DOES hurt sales.

Let's say (hypothetically) Walmart pulls $25 million in weekly revenue, but pulls $40 million on Thanksgiving week because of Black Friday shopping.

Advertising plays a HUGE role in driving that traffic. It's not just about the sales, but about using adverts to keep Walmart front-of-mind.

It's Friday morning. You saw Walmart's ad last week, so you skip right over it as you peruse the Thanksgiving circulars. You look closely at the Kohls ad and the Target ad.

Research shows Kohls and Target win, Walmart loses.

Early buzz is nice, but isn't the goal...if it were, EVERY Super Bowl advertiser would leak their ad before the Super Bowl. The goal is to make sales. Buzz on November 20 can't compete with advertising on November 28.

Not following you here Scott.

If the 'Black Friday' sites get the ad say a week early, that builds buzz online for the sales WM is planning on running. Then let's say Wal-Mart runs their circular on Weds, then they get offline buzz as well.

What WM has done is stifle online buzz that the BF sites would have generated.

I can't see how that is a good thing. And if WM was planning on running a Thanksgiving circular, then they would have gotten twice the buzz, first from online 'leaks', and then from the Thanksgiving circulars.


I think we overestimate the quantity and value of online buzz. I'm just guessing, though, since I don't have hard facts.

I'm guessing Walmart -- a company that has been in the retail business for half a century and that has a very sophisticated understanding of what works in advertising -- makes calculated strategic decisions about timing.

I could be wrong, but I think Walmart has done its research and has decided it gets the most bang for its buck by releasing its ad on Black Friday, rather than Nov. 20. If research showed you'd get more advertising value from an early release, I'm sure Walmart would intentionally release the ad early.

Alas, maybe we're ahead of ourselves. Why don't we ask Walmart? A project/post for next week, perhaps?

Thanks for prompting the convo, Mack.

"I could be wrong, but I think Walmart has done its research and has decided it gets the most bang for its buck by releasing its ad on Black Friday, rather than Nov. 20."

I would agree with that, and I am not arguing that WM should run its ad earlier or questioning if its strategy to release right before BF is correct or not. In fact I think running it right before or the day OF Black Friday IS the best strategy.

I just question why they would want to stifle the online buzz that would be generated by BF sites running the ad a week earlier. We can argue the 'value' of that buzz, but ANY value that WM gets at all, is FREE. So again, why would WM want to stifle FREE buzz?

That's my only question.

While I think walmart is right for taking advantage of online buzz, the fact that they are retail will benefit from print ads as well. I'd say the best thing to do is both!


Every year, Walmart sends a letter to all of the Black Friday sites stating they do not want their ad posted on the web site. Usually, Walmart will let the sites post it 3-5 days before the actual ad comes out, but not sooner.

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