Editorial: Wal-Mart TV's bad reception

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Even the mightiest of marketers are afraid to say this to Wal-Mart, so we'll say it for them: Your in-store TV system has become a nuisance media buy for some.

Premiere Retail Networks, which operates the system for the retail giant, argues that it's an important means of reaching consumers, offering up the following stats: 130 million viewers over four weeks; independently audited and measured by Nielsen; intercept surveys of 3,600 individuals.

But marketers, while afraid to speak on the record, aren't so impressed. They say that PRN does not allow them to test the system on their own. ("If they let me test and I could prove [good results] I'd say, `Sign me up and I'll advertise all day long,"' said one marketer.) Others note that some of the TV sets either don't function or run with the sound off because sales associates and consumers find the clatter an annoyance. Even those who purport to like Wal-Mart TV aren't able to pinpoint just what it's doing for them in this age of accountability (Pfizer claims it can prove "a positive ROI" but refused to share details).

"It's hard to know [how much of my sales spike] is owed to Wal-Mart TV," says Jay Ellis, director sales strategy for Wal-Mart and Sam's Club at Dreyer's. "It's difficult to completely isolate it."

No, it's not. We can isolate exactly what PRN does for marketers: Curry favor with the Bentonville behemoth. Those who do business with Wal-Mart are a pragmatic lot who find it a small price to pay. One noted privately that, "We look at [a PRN buy] as more of a relationship build as opposed to a wise media purchase."

Translation: It smells a lot like a slotting fee. And if that's what it takes to get into Wal-Mart, most marketers will happily pony up-PRN or no PRN. What galls them isn't buying the in-store network, but pretending the in-store network would have made the media plan even if Wal-Mart didn't control so much of their business.

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