Every year, beginning in mid-August, Back to School photos take over social media. They are shared and liked from coast to coast: kids holding up chalkboards and signs announcing age, grade, and other vital stats, and maybe what they want to do when they grow up.
But there was one particular image that had the internet flaming for a completely different reason. A Twitter user posted a photo of a Walmart back to school display advertising products that would help kids “own the school year like a hero.” Those products? Rifles. The Twitter user was not pleased … and neither were most of the people who saw the picture.
Simple, rage-filled expressions of disgust filled up Twitter, with most people saying simply that the image was “disgusting” or “truly awful.” Others asked what the image was meant to suggest. There were, of course, many who saw the “humor” in the image. Telling people to lighten up. That the display was clearly a joke to get attention and, maybe, increase sales.
Now, Walmart is walking things back, making a very public apology and trying to avoid answering direct questions about the origin of the sign and the display. In a public statement the day after the image went viral, Walmart said company representatives are “working to identify which of its stores put up the exhibit.” Speaking to CNN, Walmart Spokesman Charles Crowson said the company was “not happy” and is “working diligently” to learn where the display was put up, who put it up and why. They also said they would assure the public that the display was taken down.
At this point, it’s tough to say if the display has been taken down … and Walmart sure isn’t saying one way or another. Though it’s difficult to believe the company doesn’t know which store where this happened. So, at this point, all they can do is condemn the display and hope the online furor dies down quickly.
Already, though, media outlets reporting on the story are bringing up past Public Relations disasters the company has suffered in recent years. Last September, a store in Panama City made national news after a Coke display was constructed to look like the Twin Towers, as part of a 9/11 commemoration. Walmart quickly said it meant no disrespect to those who lost their lives in the World Trade Center attacks, and that the display was quickly removed.
Two years before that, the company was apologizing again. This time for selling a “fat girl” Halloween costume. Seems like, maybe, Walmart needs to rethink the message its merchandising is sending in the digital age.