Lawsuit: Marketing Blamed in Wal-Mart Trampling Death

Advertising 'Specifically' Designed to Attract Large Crowds

By Published on .

BATAVIA, Ohio ( -- Security should have been better, but advertising also helped kill a temporary worker at Wal-Mart, according to a lawsuit filed by the estate and relatives of the 34-year-old man trampled by a pre-dawn Black Friday crowd at a Valley Stream, N.Y., store.

At least one local police official and one retail marketing consultant also argue that Black Friday marketing and merchandising practices need to change in the wake of the incident.

A complaint filed today in New York State Supreme Court in the Bronx on behalf of survivors of the fallen worker, Jdimytai Damour, claims that besides failing to provide adequate security, Wal-Mart "engaged in specific marketing and advertising techniques to specifically attract a large crowd and create an environment of frenzy and mayhem," according to published reports.

Also named as defendants in the lawsuit were the Green Acres Mall, its owner Vornado Retail Trust, and a security company required to patrol the property.

Working on safety
"We consider Mr. Damour part of the Wal-Mart family and are saddened by his death," Hank Mullany, president of the Northeast Division of Wal-Mart U.S., said in a statement. "We have been in communication with members of his family to do what we can to help them through this difficult time. Our associates know that when incidents like this occur, we take care of our own."

He said Wal-Mart continues to work with local law enforcement officials to implement stronger safety measures in the future.

In an earlier statement on Friday, Mr. Mullany said, "We expected a large crowd this morning and added additional internal security, additional third-party security, additional store associates and we worked closely with the Nassau County Police. We also erected barricades. Despite all of our precautions, this unfortunate event occurred."

Charges unlikely
The 6-foot-5, 270-pound Mr. Damour died of asphyxiation after being crushed when the crowd broke open electronic doors as the store opened at 5 a.m. on Friday. At least four others were also treated at area hospitals, according to published reports, including a woman who was eight months pregnant.

Police have reviewed store video to try to identify possible suspects, but in a press conference, Nassau County Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey said criminal charges are unlikely.

"When you advertise products, and you market it heavily, and it garners public interest, and it's great bargains with limited quantities of merchandise, and you have a crowd that can grow beyond the quantity available, it is a recipe for disaster," Mr. Mulvey said.

He also said Wal-Mart didn't appear to have enough security to handle the crowds and that police had told retailers in the county two weeks earlier that security and crowd control were their responsibility.

Burt Flickinger III, principal of the retail marketing consultancy Strategic Resource Group, believes marketing and merchandising practices around Black Friday need to change to ensure adequate stocks of sale-priced items are available or that shoppers receive numbers, deli-style, prior to store openings entitling them to merchandise. Such safeguards, he said, have helped other toy and electronics retailers avert unruly crowds during hot product launches or sales.

Past stampedes
While Mr. Damour's death was a Black Friday first according to the National Retail Federation, Mr. Flickinger said stampedes have occurred in past years at some Wal-Mart locations and elsewhere.

He said his late father worked for years, unsuccessfully, to have legislation passed in New York that would require stores would have to have adequate stock of advertised items "so you wouldn't have these tragic stampedes in the stores."

The incident casts a bad light on Wal-Mart just as things have been going very well for the retailer, thanks to its advertising slogan, increased media spending and improved apparel merchandising, said Mr. Flickinger. However, it's not clear whether the publicity will slow the retailer's momentum.

Representatives for Vornado and Green Acres could not immediately be reached for comment.

Marketing not at fault, says Think Ink exec

Ad Age received a letter from Think Ink after this story was published, and we have appended it to the original post.

Advertising "Specifically" Designed to Attract Large Crowds ... Huh?

They have the perpetrators on film. Reportedly there were police in the parking lot. Had the perpetrators been wielding guns, there would be no discussion.

Blame marketing? Should we blame marketers of musicians and their concerts where fans are injured (or worse)? I mean really, it was the marketer's fault that so many fans turned up and trampled people in the front rows -- right? Should we blame cereal makers because Mom bought Fruit Loops at the insistence of her whiny daughter and she turned out obese? Are marketers truly responsible for the actions that we able-bodied, able-minded people choose to take?

Perhaps we should insist on metal detectors, legal waivers and random drug tests done on customers before they are allowed to enter the store, just in case the overwhelming desire to shop should drive more consumers to acts of violence. We need to guarantee a safe shopping experience for all who enter. It is only right. Right?

Large crowds have been a part of pre-holiday shopping since the inception of the shopping malls and superstores. Marketing cannot be held responsible for consumer behavior. Marketing does drive purchase decisions, but it does not make us kill people. We make that decision all by ourselves.

These were capable, able-bodied adults who chose to participate in the trampling of a person to his death. If their morals place more value on a flat-screen TV than on the life of another human, well, that is something that no one outside of that person can choose to control. And it is ridiculous and wrong to blame anyone else, even if it is Walmart.

It's too easy to go after the big fish. Blame Walmart, marketing ... any organization or body that can make the lawsuit and hefty legal fees worth going after. It's this type of thinking (or not thinking) that has made the U.S. the most litigious country in the world and hiked up the cost of living (through higher insurance premiums) for every man, woman and child...

While I personally do not like with the concept of Walmart per se (death of the high-street stores, mass-produced cheap goods, etc.), Walmart cannot be held responsible for a mob of desperate shoppers who without thought sacrificed another's life to get a few bucks off their Christmas gifts. The shoppers should be held accountable for manslaughter -- just as they would be had they run the man over in their car to get into a parking space near the front door.

People do desperate things in desperate times, but nobody was starving, and there was no free food behind those Walmart doors that morning ...

In this case, the blood is on someone else's boots. Lay the blame where it belongs.

Vanessa Horwell
Chief Visibility Officer
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