Tale of the Tape: Apple vs. Wal-Mart

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It's shaping up to be a clash of titans. Apple, No. 1 in digital music and TV show downloads, and Wal-Mart, No. 1 in DVD and CD sales, are headed into the digital-content sales war. Ad Age assesses their strengths and weaknesses.

BRAND IMAGE

Apple: The beloved brand is inspired by Ive, orchestrated by Jobs and calibrated by Clow. Need we say more?

Wal-Mart: In transition, awaiting a new agency as it tries to claw its way rather clumsily to a hipper aesthetic. But it's not there yet: Imagine what Apple could do by simply putting a blue smock on its PC-personifying spokesman John Hodgman.

PRICING

Apple: Charges 99¢ a song. Apple plans to charge $14.99 for new-release movies and $9.99 for older movies.

Wal-Mart: Undercuts Apple by 11¢ a song. It's reportedly lobbying studios to cut its $17 wholesale prices, using Apple as leverage. It will get its price concessions-it always does-but Hollywood could benefit if Apple breaks Wal-Mart's stranglehold on 40% of all DVD sales.

Distribution

Apple: Its first retail store opened in 2001, and there are now 150 and counting. With $140 million in '05 sales, Apple averages an unheard-of $4,000 per square foot.

Wal-Mart: Some 176 million people visit its 6,500 stores every week. It sells 10% of all CDs and four times that in DVDs. But online digital music is only about 5% of the market, and downloadable movies don't even register, so Wal-Mart crushes Apple on volume.

Advertising

Apple: Its music and iPod ads are simple, elegant and most importantly effective. The message: If you love music, you'll love jamming out with the iPod.

Wal-Mart: Must serve many masters and can't focus in the same way Apple can. Even when it attempts to spotlight entertainment, the result is perplexing, such as the confusing jumble of brands that were Wal-Mart's spots for Paramount's "Over the Hedge."

Retail Experience

Apple: You be the judge. You can sit at Apple's Genius Bar staffed by college-educated, well-paid tech experts.

Wal-Mart: Or you can beg an overworked, underpaid Wal-Mart associate to explain where to find the latest Disney movie.
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