This week something historic happened in the world of advertising. The biggest, baddest retailer on the block took off its gloves and went directly at a competitor. Wal-Mart, which has made its name (if not based its entire economic model) almost exclusively on rock bottom pricing, did a comparative shopping thing against a fast-growing, highly regarded regional grocery chain named Harris Teeter. Then, using customer testimonials, it trumpeted the fact that its prices were virtually 10% lower than Harris Teeter’s on many comparable products.
I call it historic because Wal-Mart had never mentioned a competitor before until this week. But it was noteworthy because it was contrary to what amounts to a mountain of accepted wisdom. In the world of politics, for example, experts always tell an incumbent to never mention an opponent by name because it legitimizes him.
And the same holds true in advertising. It has been a long-held belief that a market leader should never give weight to a competitor by referring to the company’s product or brand name. Because by doing so might make it seem that #1 and #2 are much closer in market share than is actually the case.
But that’s not the point of this blog. Instead of what Wal-Mart did this week, I’d rather focus on what Harris Teeter did in response. And what they did was this: nothing.
Instead of using the opportunity to use the national publicity to its benefit, it chose to bury its head in the sand and say literally, “No comment.” Which is exactly what a representative told NPR this week after the network sought an interview with a Harris Tweeter executive about Wal-Mart’s mention of them.
I couldn’t believe it. Rather than extolling the differences between the two shopping experiences and telling the world about the remarkable quality and the uniqueness of the kind of products Harris Teeter carries, not to mention the level of service they provide – which, if you’ve ever shopped a Harris Teeter, is considerable – the company froze. It panicked. It swallowed the bit.
Despite the brand attributes that have made Harris Teeter a darling in the retail grocery set – namely, store ambiance, unique selection, first-rate quality and the highest-level service – the company acted as though the whole world was utterly obsessed with price and held its hands up to its corporate ears, shook its heads, hummed, and acted like it hoped the whole thing would just go away.
Because that’s exactly what U.S. manufacturers did for years while China kept on crowing about how cheap they could make things.
Rather than counter-punching and coming back with the many things we did so much better than China – like building things that worked, creating things that lasted, and mass-producing things that were reliable and dependable — all while doing it in a way which didn’t risk peoples’ lives or destroy the environment – we ran for cover. We acted as though we thought the whole world was totally fixated on price and that it didn’t value the many things we did far, far better than China – which, as we all realize now, was crazy.
And even now as I hear politicians and so-called experts continue to say that we need to promote “Made in America,” I say to myself these people are crazy. Most consumers and buyers don’t care where something is made. Most people want value. And they want to know their money was spent well and spent wisely.
What good is buying something for half price when it doesn’t work half the time?
In this world there will always be something cheaper and something costing less out-of-pocket money up front. And it’s a losing proposition for any supplier to chase a competitor to the bottom when it comes to pricing. Just as it’s a losing proposition to expect wholesale buyers to worry about something as ultimately meaningless as geography when they’re trying to operate within the context of a global economy.
Made in America? Who cares? Seriously, who the heck cares?
Most of my customers don’t care. Yes, they wish there were more manufacturing jobs in this country. But at the end of the day, my customers want value. They want dependability. And they want economy. They could care less where something is made, as long as they’re receiving a good value for the dollar. And the same is true of retail consumers.
So rather having our politicians getting on their soapboxes and crowing about things being “Made in America,” while naively believing that by sticking a picture of the stars and bars on a package they will fundamentally change consumer behavior, I wish they’d wake up and smell the coffee. I wish they’d start focusing on a point of distinction that truly matters to people.
And I wish too they’d adopt a message that has the power to fundamentally change how the world views American-made products.
You can have “Made in America.” Give me a relevant slogan; one that hits people where they live; one that gets them off the topic of price and focuses them on what matters most to them.
Give me these two simple words: “Made Right.”
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