Switched at conception, dumb on arrival

23 Jul

[by Todd] I’ll forgo the usual apologies for not posting enough lately. Life intervenes sometimes. But there were a couple announcements last week that are still gnawing at me and I’ve finally figured out why.

First there was Home Depot announcing it was going to sell ads on its sites to its vendors. Then there was Walmart’s taadaa of a social network program for teens. Aside from the usual reaction of rolling eyeballs and feigned disbelief, I kept thinking that someone mixed up the press releases.

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But I get ahead of myself.

Home Depot is turning it’s web site into a media stream. With something just north of 17 million do-it-yourselfers hitting it’s site every month, Home Depot will sell ads to its vendors. According to Adweek the ads will link to branded sites that feature more information on the company’s products, such as videos of Moen faucets at play. Great, plumbing p0rn.

There is something troubling about this given Home Depot’s strong-arm tactics with its suppliers. Companies don’t willingly hand over more money to folks in orange aprons so much as they have the funds squeezed from their bottom line. Do you really think a vendor, who’s very existence now relies on Home Depot’s largess, is going to turn away their ad sales team?

At the same time the fahionistas at Walmart have just the recipe for getting hip with teens, The Hub, School My Way. By the millions teens will flock to The Hub, driven to create their personal pages, post their hip videos and hope to win fabulous cash and prizes. Of course all content will have to be approved before going live, but that shouldn’t be a problem for Walmart’s savvy web team.

Which brings me back to my initial point.

Walmart has no business in the social networking space. It isn’t who they are. Walmart isn’t a store you get passionate about. (Unless you’re crusading to keep one from being built next to your neighborhood.) Shopping there isn’t something you can’t wait to discuss with your friends. It’s all about getting the best value for the money.

Last year Walmart.com averaged somewhere near 41 million visitors a month. That’s where you make money selling eyeballs. Let me explore some of the more profitable products you carry through vendor-sponsored interactive demos. Heck, let me read what others have to say about the quality. Instead Walmart is just hammering home how lame it is with a DOA teen portal.

And Home Depot should be trumpeting user content with all the zeal of college cheerleaders. People are passionate about their homes. They spend hours at work re-living the weekend’s ups and downs of home repair.

If Home Depot had half a finger on the pulse of blogs, it would be creating the world’s biggest, fully-indexed, hub of home project journals. Jump-start it with content from the bazillion sponsorships the company has. Use it to announce special sales in the stores. Sell ads on the millions of pages your customers will willingly create.

Look, I know it’s easy to sit on the sidelines and take pot shots at companies when they venture into unfamiliar territory. But why, why, why doesn’t anyone at the table ask if these ideas seem organic to the brand? Does logic leave the room when the discussion turns to the web?

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