Roehm right for Wal-Mart

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When Julie Roehm was still a brand manager at Ford Motor Co., a colleague described her thusly: "She's not afraid to try new things and she understands the consequences of trying them." We couldn't agree more, and that's why, despite the flashy executive's seemingly ungainly fit with dowdy old Wal-Mart, the move is a smart one.

Yes, Ms. Roehm was the force behind many controversial marketing programs at Chrysler Group that seem wildly at odds with a retailer that routinely pulls magazines with risque covers and music with "objectionable" lyrics off its shelves. Remember Ms. Roehm's backing of the Lingerie Bowl? Or the Durango ad that played off a double entendre about penis size?

At the same time, those bold plays represent a fearlessness and willingness to challenge the status quo. Recall that Ms. Roehm also helped blaze a trail at Chrysler toward branded entertainment, plunged the brand into gaming and online films, and was among the first to embrace mobile-phone advertising. She singled out early on the dangers of complacency in marketing. "If you're only about 30-second spots on TV, you're in trouble," she told Ad Age's 2002 AdWatch conference. "It's up to us to find ways to continue to communicate with the consumer in relevant ways."

She even dared to challenge the TV network upfront, calling for an overhaul to model it after the Nasdaq exchange.

All of which adds up to an attention-grabbing, rabble-rousing, in-your-face executive completely counter to the conservative, Bible-Belt lineage of Wal-Mart, right? Wrong. Ms. Roehm has a wealth of experience dealing with a middle-American, heartland brand (Dodge). And it's clear the Bentonville behemoth's big point of difference-low prices, always-isn't enough anymore. Facing growing competition from Target and others, Wal-Mart is in sore need of clear, savvy and distinguishable marketing, and it's seeking to upgrade its image. All of which Julie brings, in abundance.

So don't snicker at the idea of the Detroit diva rummaging the racks of White Stag. Instead, give Ms. Roehm a rousing Wal-Mart cheer.

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