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Wal-Mart's Facebook Ghost Signals Need for Ad Policy

October 18, 2007

Wal-Mart's Facebook Ghost Signals Need for Ad Policy


Tightly trapped in cellophane, a pixelated ghost looks more like a desperate prisoner than a spooky sweet. In the latest move of their Facebook marketing strategy, Wal-Mart has branded a digital ghost cookie with their logo, creating a free "gift" that Facebook users may send to their friends. Clicking the cookie brings you to Wal-Mart's halloween website.

Unlike the usual crop of virtual gifts available to users of the social network, the Wal-Mart ghost screams of crass marketing, and critics are skeptical of whether this approach will earn the beast of Bentonville any dividends. The e-commerce site Get Elastic has gone so far as to call the ghost a "terrible social media marketing tactic", arguing that Facebook users "know intrusive advertising when they see it."

Among the reactions to the branded gift, however, is little discussion on whether Facebook should be accepting advertising from Wal-Mart in the first place, whose long standing record of human rights violations led the Norwegian government to completely divest from the company earlier this year. Aside from a predictable piece by Wal-Mart Watch, much of the debate related to the ethical issues at stake is taking place on Facebook itself.

The Facebook group "Facebook: Stop Running Wal-Mart Ads!" is encouraging members to tell Facebook to end their relationship with the retail giant, and to resist the temptation to give the branded biscuit to their friends. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart's own sponsored Facebook group fails as a marketing tactic while providing a targeted forum for criticism—the vast majority of comments on Wal-Mart's group page are highly critical of the corporation and their business practices.

As Facebook increases the amount of advertiser created content on their site, they should consider creating an advertising policy and making it public for all users to see and comment upon. (Facebook has not yet returned calls on this matter.) Asides from privacy concerns, advertising may be the most controversial element of the social network, and opening up and encouraging dialogue with their users about the issue can only do Facebook good.

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opt-in to advertising?

Since facebook is a member's only site (i.e. the content is not viewable to non-members, surely those who register can opt-out of any advertising pushed their way? If this isn't the case (I'll admit I'm not a facebook member) it should be.

Hi Rob, Great piece of

Hi Rob,

Great piece of writing!

I think that the employees of Walmart feel like this suffocating ghost - trapped with no choice but just to suffocate and take the unethical working conditions.

Hoepfully, this Walmart Ghost does not make it to Facebook! Keep him away. Why would anyone ever want to promote these thiefs and give them credit!


Hi Rob, Great commentary.

Hi Rob,

Great commentary. Perhaps the ghost cookies is representative of Wal-Mart (and other big advertisers) haunting the social community? And the cookie part of how it leaves a bad taste in many members' mouths?