Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

When big brands get involved in noisy controversies, many often act shocked, shocked, shocked.

It's as if they never imagined that running a certain ad would elicit a reaction from the more extreme elements of society.

Yet I've just received wind of a curious accusation being levied at Walmart.

It involves a series of ads the brand is running on Facebook. 

They're called Love In The Aisle

And they're exactly what you might think, unless you really are truly demented. 

Here's one of the latest in the series. It involves two gay men going on a blind date in, oh, a Walmart store.

It's perfectly charming, as long as you can cope with the idea of a date at a Walmart.

Some, though, believe there's a deliberate tactic involved here, one that has, at its heart, the manipulation of social conservatives.

The Advocate, for example, offers the notion that Walmart may be deliberately stoking the ire of those with more traditional views, in order to market its brand.

It quotes PR company founder Curtis Sparrer as suggesting that Walmart is "counting on social conservatives' outrage to drive their business objectives."

Sparrer, the principal at Bospar, says that when videos are created specifically for social media, there may be a little manipulation afoot:

Conservatives didn't simply stumble across these segments, but rather they were alerted to them, likely by the companies themselves.

Really?

There was another ad that seems to have received severe reaction from socially conservative types. This one came courtesy of Cottonelle. 

You may want to hold your nose before you watch. You see, it involves the possible need to defecate before you meet your gay lover's parents.

Relieved it's over?

It would be a fascinating idea if these big marketers were taking deliberate actions to stoke controversy, rather than merely preparing for strong reactions.

Naturally, I contacted both Walmart and Cottonelle's parent company Kimberly-Clark to ask for comment.

Walmart didn't immediately respond. A spokeswoman for Kimberly-Clark, however, refuted the very idea that social conservatives were being deliberately provoked: 

We launched this campaign because research has shown that nearly half of all American's claim to have a 'downtherecare' routine and almost 90 percent of consumers say it's important to feel clean after going to the bathroom. No matter a person's orientation, gender, or anything else, being clean impacts everyone. Our company embraces diversity in all aspects and we are proud to share a commercial that is representative of that.

It's surely the case that these big brands know they have many constituencies. They realize that excluding some makes them look retrograde, so they try and embrace all. 

Which isn't to say they don't realize there might be strong reactions, even if they're not seen to be deliberately provoking them.

Big brands tend only to want to provoke sales.

Then again, some would contend that ensuring a reaction will result in increased sales.

Sparrer, himself a gay man, wasn't shy with his assessment: 

Conservatives can be reliably counted on to provide an immediate reaction to any pro-LGBT storyline, creating a newsworthy controversy for a journalist to cover. That media coverage will not only feature both sides of the controversy but also provide top-of-mind brand recognition that research has found is more effective than traditional advertising. That means social conservatives have become useful tools for marketers and public relations.

I asked him, though, whether there was any proof of these tactics. He told me there's not direct proof. However, he said, the way it often works is this: 

To get a message out there, when you don't want to have your fingerprints attached, go to a third party influencer and give him a tip. He'll start tweeting about it and instantly the message will be carried to the right people.

Sparrer's conclusion is: 

Walmart and Cottonelle knew exactly what would happen.

In the case of Walmart, Tim Wildmon, president of the stiffly conservative American Family Association, offered this view:

I honestly never thought Walmart would join the cultural revolution and reject the beliefs of its customer base. It's clear that Walmart is on the path of elevating homosexual relationships to the same level as the male-female model of marriage.

Shocking. 

Published on: Mar 9, 2019