Pushing Envelope Julie's MO -- Not Wal-Mart's

Roehm's Chrysler 'Lingerie Bowl' and 'Urinal' Ad Should Have Been a Clue

By Published on .

This is about the perils of nature photography. But first, an exploration of human psychology.

Why do bank robbers return to the scene of the crime? Why do daredevils try to jump river gorges on motorcycles? Why does Lamar Alexander run for president?

DraftFCB's 'wildlife' ad was placed to ostensibly congratulate Cannes Lion winners, with a photograph of hot lion-on-lion action. The headline: 'It's good to be on top.' Some now suggest the ad had other meanings relative to the Wal-Mart review. Click to see large image of full-page ad.

Companion Stories:

Unruly Julie and the Scandal That Rocked the Ad World
Why Wal-Mart Fired Its Change-Agent Marketer Julie Roehm -- and the Agency She Hired
Video: Julie Roehm Before the Fall
Interview Excerpts From Her Fourth Month at Wal-Mart
Draft Dealt Staggering Blow After Strutting Like a Champ
Triumphant Agency CEO Turns From Hero to Goat Overnight
Sam's Successors Share Blame for Wal-Mart Shame News
The Review Rollback Is Just the Latest Stumble -- Is Anyone Left Untainted?
In Bentonville, Buyers Abide by Stringent Code News
Not Even a Cup of Coffee Passes Across the Trading Table at the Retailer's HQ
As Wal-Mart Reopens Review, Windy City Ad Community Lets Out a Groan
Chicago's Agencies Had Hoped $580 Million Account Would Spark a Resurgence

Thrill of risk
Some people think these behaviors are rooted in the thrill of risk, of cheating the odds. Others believe it's more to do with the secret desire to fail, or worse. A death wish, in other words. Both explanations make some sense, but most often, we suspect, something else is at work:

Excessive self-esteem. Some people are so convinced of their own extraordinary gifts and the special status those gifts confer that they operate with a sense of impunity. They know they're perilously at the edge but believe they are safe from harm. It's the adolescent illusion of invulnerability in adult form.

Could this be at the core of the Wal-Mart debacle?

'Lingerie Bowl'
Now-departed Senior VP-Marketing Julie Roehm had a reputation for pushing the envelope of propriety. When she was at Chrysler, she signed up as a sponsor of the racy "Lingerie Bowl," before having to withdraw under pressure. And it was she -- speaking of arrested adolescence -- who thought it appropriate to advertise the Hemi engine in Dodge trucks with two guys at urinals talking about how "size matters." Ha ha.

Next stop, incomprehensibly, Wal-Mart.

This is a chain that doesn't carry Maxim, due to boobage concerns, or pornographic literature, such as Jon Stewart's "America: The Book." It rejects music that could potentially offend the sensibilities of its customers, among them a CD by the noted anarchist pervert John Mellencamp.

Hiring the urinal lady?
This company hired the urinal lady? At that point, she'd be forgiven for feeling impunity. This could perhaps explain joy rides in the Aston Martin of a prospective vendor, even though kazillionaire founder Sam Walton drove a pickup truck so as not to put on airs. It might also explain dining at Nobu, the pricey New York sushi joint, with DraftFCB picking up the tab -- even though, by Wal-Mart's zero-tolerance ethics policy, if a vendor offers you a "Good morning" you are obliged to refuse. If a Wal-Mart employee is at Nobu, it had better be in the kitchen, finding a cheaper way to steam rice.

Even the splashy Broadway-style extravaganza Roehm staged at the annual shareholders meeting defied the deeply ingrained corporate culture. Vulgarity is just not the Wal-Mart way.

'Wildlife' victory ad
This gets to the wildlife ad. Placed by DraftFCB, it ostensibly congratulated Cannes Lion winners, with a photograph of hot lion-on-lion action. The headline: "It's good to be on top." That's obnoxious in its own right, but what if the agency knew at that point (as the scandal narrative now suggests) it had itself topped other shops vying for Wal-Mart's $580 million account? Suddenly "Congratulations to all the winners" sounds like a crude and mean-spirited victory dance.

Either way, it was bound to irritate the Bentonville brain trust. Surely in the pitch this agency demonstrated a thoroughgoing understanding of Wal-Mart's values. Could they not have seen how this stunt would be viewed? As puerile at best and, at worst, as taunting. In the NFL, that transgression costs you 15 yards. At Wal-Mart, it costs you an annual bite of $580 million.

Once again, the wages of excessive self-esteem.

If there is any practical lesson from this affair, it's that the client is the company -- not the senior VP-marketing -- and the client's values system is not to be taken lightly. DraftFCB evidently bought into Roehm's self-image as a "change agent." Yeah, well, congratulations. Wal-Mart is now changing agencies.

~ ~ ~
Review: no stars
Ad: DraftFCB
Agency: DraftFCB
Location: Chicago

~ ~ ~
DraftFCB, while citing embarrassment about its Cannes Lions winners-congratulations ad, says the ad was placed weeks before official notification that the agency had won the Wal-Mart account and was in no way a reference to the results of the pitch.
Most Popular