Can negative viral marketing have a positive effect on sales?

September 15, 2009

By Jason Marchioni, Media Strategist @NYCA

If you are a habitual Ad Age reader, you probably saw the most recent article surrounding  This blog site invites people to upload, rate and comment on photos of oddly-dressed, weirdly-behaving people seen shopping at Walmart.  
This site appears to have been created in the name of good fun. It’s the kind of virtual people-watching we all crave. Whether you’re a frequent Walmart shopper, or have only been there occasionally, retail people-watching is a sport we’ve all engaged in. The site brings us closer to Walmart by letting us experience some of its inherent fun from our desks. And yet, some of the content on the site denigrates its subjects.

Should Walmart embrace the site and join in the fun?  Or should it try to put a stop to it and risk being viewed as an establishment with no sense of humor?  Or perhaps, in the advice of Stanley Bing in “Throwing the Elephant,” perhaps they should do nothing —  stand by idle and wait for the next big viral hit to draw the attention away? Difficult as it might seem to refrain from reaction, It appears that Walmart will follow this path. Walmart spokesperson David Tovar has declined to speak to the media by simply releasing this statement, “it doesn’t seem like it’s news that there’s a website that allows people to post photos on it.”   

That’s a pretty humorless response. Walmart probably hates this site. And with good reason. Many anti-Walmart advocates have called for Walmart’s demise due to its notorious reputation of siphoning customers from formerly-thriving local business. And now this site throws pot-shots at its consumers! What’s a brand to do!

Fact is, people are in love with The founders had to move the site to bigger servers to accommodate the influx of traffic.’s traffic has also risen – probably the back to school shopping wave. But perhaps is unwitting advertising for a product we all consume at Walmart: the sheer experience of being there. It’s possible that Walmart will enjoy beneficial effects of We’ll have to watch and see.