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Mr. Wildmon's American Family Association has turned on Wal-Mart Stores -- long one of its favorites in corporate America -– because it said the world’s largest retailer is stocking “abortion” pill RU-486 and heavily promoting the DVD release of gay love story “Brokeback Mountain.”
A spokesman for Wal-Mart said the chain does not and never has approved RU-486, a pill he said does cause abortion. But he said Wal-Mart did agree to carry Plan B, a different drug that manufacturer Barr Labs says can prevent fertilization of an egg or implantation of a fertilized egg if taken up to 72 hours after intercourse.
In an e-mail to members of the AFA’s One Million Mom’s action group today, AFA Chairman Donald Wildmon said Wal-Mart is blocking the group’s e-mails. So he urged members to call Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., or stop in to speak to their local store managers in person. The AFA also has issued a commentary: “Wal-Mart—No Longer Worthy of Family Trust?”
It’s a sharp departure from only a few months ago, when Wal-Mart basked in relative adoration of the conservative Christian group for being one of the first to buckle to its effort to get retailers to use the word “Christmas” in their ads and promotions. Previously, the AFA had helped Wal-Mart score PR coups over rival Target by lauding the Bentonville retailer for allowing Salvation Army bell ringers outside its stores when Target wouldn’t.
But today, Mr. Wildmon accused Wal-Mart of a “spiral away from traditional family values” in part because it's promoting “Brokeback Mountain” with large posters in stores.
Defends customer base
Regarding “Brokeback Mountain,” the Wal-Mart spokesman said the company provides a wide movie selection in store and online “because a broad segment of the customer base wants to buy the latest titles.”
Mr. Wildmon’s missive also links to a commentary by AFA Director of Special Projects Randy Sharp that said: “Wal-Mart continues to abandon the principles of common decency and morality that made them a household name. ... Before making a trip to your store next time, I’ll take a moment and ask myself, ‘Is there an alternative place to shop?’”
Mr. Sharp also noted that a representative of one of Wal-Mart’s public relations firms, independent Edelman, hadn’t returned his return of a call last fall. Wal-Mart already had begun to run afoul of the AFA last year by giving employees diversity training urging tolerance for gays and lesbians.
Representatives of Edelman did not immediately return calls for comment.
An attack might be god PR
Getting attacked by the AFA may not be all bad for Wal-Mart, a company trying to build its brand more with shoppers (and voters) in such blue states as California and New York, and regularly getting bashed by left-leaning groups such as the union-backed Wal-Mart Watch and Wake-Up Wal-Mart, said Harris Diamond, CEO of PR firm Weber Shandwick, a unit of Interpublic Group of Cos.
But appearing to appease the AFA by changing its policies now could prove particularly problematic for Wal-Mart, he believes. “Most people are actually separating church and state, and church and commerce,” Mr. Diamond said. “I think Wal-Mart has recognized that issue and for most of its customers I suspect that this will be perceived as neutral to positive, more likely neutral.”
The AFA has so far stopped short of boycotting Wal-Mart, as opposed to Ford Motor Co., against which the group renewed a previously canceled boycott earlier this month over the marketer’s decision to advertise to gays and lesbians.
Ad industry finds a spine
The AFA’s latest move comes as the advertising industry is taking steps to strengthen its collective backbone in standing up to it and other pressure groups. The Association of National Advertisers (of which Wal-Mart is a member) and American Association of Advertising Agencies on March 22 jointly endorsed the Commercial Closet Association’s “Principle of Free Market Advertising Expression,” which states that "advertisers must remain free to market their products and services to consumers regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender/gender expression, religious affiliation, physical disability or sexual orientation.”
The declaration opposes “all forms of attacks intended to disrupt free commerce based on intolerance or hostility toward any consumer, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.”