Feelin’ Richer-Straight Talk

This Walmart “Straight Talk” ad from makes me crack up every time I see it. You would too, take a look if you haven’t seen it already.



It’s no secret that Walmart is targeting the price-conscious consumers, but according to this AdAge article it is also trying to attract the prepaid business subscribers. It’s all about providing customers value that is achieved when benefits exceed the costs associated with a product. Why does the ad, in my opinion, work in achieving salience? The message – when you save money on your cell phone bill you can spend it on things more dear to you is very clearly emphasized and is done so with humor. It is hilarious to picture two masculine men holding these tiny toy poodles, the ultimate fashion accessory for the rich and the famous. It also very cleverly executes the Pavolvian model of classical conditioning in the context of consumer behavior.

Classical conditioning says that learning is an associative process with an already existing relationship between a stimulus and response. e.g. food and salivation that is not taught but rather, it already exists, i.e. we can say that food is an unconditional stimulus and salivation is an unconditional response.

In this Walmart ad, the unconditioned stimulus would be the humor associated with the ad, seeing the men holding the pooches makes us laugh, the conditioned stimulus is the “Straight Talk” part. The humor elicits an unconditional response, laughter, which is a natural response to the stimulus. The conditioned stimulus, which before viewing the ad would have been neutral, now after watching the ad is associated with the unconditioned stimulus. So now every time you hear or see “Straight Talk” you have a conditioned or a learned response of feeling pleasant from the memory of the humorous ad.

The frequency of repetition of an ad will depend on how complicated the message is, the consumers’ age, education and level or ability to learn. This is where demographics helps in understanding the characteristics of the target market so that the media planning companies can decide on where to reach these consumers, i.e. what is the optimal medium and how often the ad has to be repeated so that the unconditioned and conditioned stimuli become associated in the minds of the consumers. This will affect the consumers’ brand preferences, which is the desired outcome. Walmart would like consumers to consider its prepaid cellular service over that of the competing brands.

The unconditioned stimulus must be symbolically salient. If “Straight Talk” were similar to another product offering either by Walmart or by one of its rivals, then consumers would be confused and may be unable to differentiate the products or brands. This was exactly the case with the Energizer battery that used the “Energizer Bunny” to get consumers to associate its brand with the bunny, however it caused consumers to confuse it with the Duracell brand, which had also used a bunny. Although, there were differences between the two bunnies, the similarities were too close to differentiate. Duracell ads in the US and Canada don’t use the bunny any longer because Energizer filed a trademark claim for the marketing use of a “battery bunny”.

This Walmart ad not only successfully executes classical conditioning but also clearly emphasizes the value to its customers. It is an example of a well-done ad.