I don't watch a lot of TV. There are only five or six evening programs that I watch regularly, and I really can't take more than a few minutes at a time of most of what is shown on cable. Having said that, I admit I have watched quite a bit of TV the past month (the Holiday season 2013) - probably an average of six to eight hours a day. During that time, most of what I watched seems to have been Walmart commercials.

   I didn't take notes, but - just guessing - I would say that in the past month, the network shows I saw ran an average of four Walmart commercials per hour. The cable shows ran maybe eight. This wasn't just in "prime time;" this was all-day and all-evening long.  And I'm not counting another six to eight spots per hour in which products from toothpaste and toilet paper to cell phones to computers reminded us that those products were available at our local Walmart. Also, I guess we need to throw in another couple per hour of (for instance) well-known musicians letting us know that their latest releases were available exclusively at Walmart.

   I don't "get" commercial advertising in general. I doubt we are the only viewers in America who automatically "mute" most TV commercials, or that we are the only ones who enjoy and remember clever commercials, but can't remember what they advertise. But, most of all, I don't "get" Walmart commercials. Why do they need to advertise, at all? They ran most of the small businesses out of business years ago; they've pretty well done in the "medium-box" former competitors; and they're working pretty hard to destroy the few other remaining "big boxes." For most shoppers in most communities, there are now few alternatives to Walmart, whether you're shopping for groceries, hardware, clothes, or electronics. You've won, guys; you don't need to keep telling us that you're the only store in town.

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   Looking at it economically, it seems to me that Walmart is wasting an amazing amount of money on commercials they don't need. What I know about producing and airing TV commercials is the result of about half an hour on the internet, so don't take the following figures as "gospel." Still, there seems to general agreement that:

   1. The average 30-second commercial for nationally broadcast TV might cost $350,000 to produce. I'm sure you can make them less expensively, but obviously some are a lot more costly than that average.

   2. Running a 30-second spot on local cable TV can cost as little as $15,000, but is higher than that in the most watched hours. A 30-second spot on your "average" prime time shows (half-hour comedies, hour-long dramas) start at about $200,000. Forget about the "block-busters" like the Super Bowl, where one starts negotiating in the several millions; the average "super show" (like "American Idol," when it was most popular) commanded about $500,000 per spot.

   Now, let's apply this to what I've seen of Walmart commercials this past month.

     1. They didn't just run one commercial; there are about six different ones going. They are all pretty much the same, so they obviously didn't have to start from scratch on each one, but they are each a separate "production." Give them the benefit of the doubt, and say each spot averaged $200,000 to produce. (We won't get into how much money changed hands for all those other commercials that have the Walmart logo attached to them.) Being generously minimalistic, let's say they spent a little over $1,000,000 to produce those six commercial spots.

    2. Now, let's say I averaged seven hours a day of TV watching; so, seven hours per day times 30 days in the month equals 210 hours. About one-third of that would have been network, more or less "prime time," or 70 hours. During that time, they ran four commercials per hour, or 280 commercials total. That cost Walmart 280 commercials times $200,000 per commercial, or $5.6 million.

   The other 140 hours I watched cable or non-prime time shows, but there were  many more commercials per hour: 140 hours x 8 commercials per hour x maybe (minimally) $25,000 per hour = $28 million.

   So, in the past month, Walmart has spent just on me maybe $35 million dollars. I'm not watching many hours, and I'm only watching one channel at a time, when they are running commercials on several dozen channels simultaneously. Their cost for me is probably little more than a rounding error in their total advertising budget.) Still, my $35 million seems like a lot to me, particularly since I "mute" all their commercials, and wouldn't dream of going to a Walmart, anyway. The reaction of other watchers is probably not as extreme as mine, but I bet all those folks knew where a Walmart is already, without being regaled with even one commercial.

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   Walmart has seemed like a pretty savvy company to me. After all, their profits soar each year. But this expenditure on unneeded advertising seems very un-businesslike. If they didn't spend all that money on unnecessary advertising, they could have even more cash hidden under their corporate mattresses. But I have another suggestion:

   Walmart reportedly employs 1.4 million people (about 1 percent of the United States' working population). What if next month they took just the $35 million they spent on me this past month, and distributed it equally to their employees? That would be about $25 per person - not enough to get them off food stamps, or even enough to buy baby a new pair of shoes, but it still might be good for Walmart. After all, those folks would almost have to spend their $25 at a Walmart.




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