Walmart’s “Made in the USA” Ad

I was just taking in a few minutes of the Olympics when I saw a new Walmart ad touting its pledge to purchase $250 billion of American-made products (or perhaps more accurately, its  “pledging [of] $250 billion to products purchased from American factories”).  Roll the tape and see for yourself:

It is a bit odd to see Walmart pitching this “Made in the USA” message while blaring a song (“Working Man”) by the non-American band Rush!*  It really made me chuckle to see Walmart undercut its mercantilist-esque theme by choosing the best product for what it is trying to accomplish – just like most of us – and that product is made by non-Americans!

Of course, I generally don’t care where my products (or music) come from as long as they meet my needs (price, quality, etc).  Just like Walmart with its music selection, the wise consumer choooses products no matter where they come from and just says yes to free markets without any mercantilist-induced guilt.**  Isn’t it enough for Walmart to tell us that it is awesome at providing quality goods at low cost?  That is the Walmart I want to shop at (and do).  Moreover, I don’t think Walmart really cares from whence its products come – it is just trying to play to nationalist sentiment during a nationalist event like the Olympics.  But I’m not buying that product, even when produced with the help of the great power trio from Canada, Rush.

* Ok, technically Canadians and all other peoples of the Americas are American.  But we all know that Canadians hate to be confused with Americans to their south (hence the ever-present Canadian flag on their backpacks when they travel abroad).  Moreover, the term American is commonly understood to mean citizens of the USA – or put another way, members of American society (that community that resides roughly between Canada and Mexico).  So my critique is reasonable – especially since Walmart is making the “Made in the USA” argument, not the made in NAFTA argument!

** People should be allowed to choose inferior or pricier products due to nationalist/protectionist sentiments.  But that doesn’t necessarily make such choices good ones from a narrowly economic perspective.  And even if you care about American “competitiveness,” such loyalty to American-made products can, in the long run, undercut American businesses.  We’ll all be better off choosing free trade (and read that with the sound of the Rush song “Free Will” in your head).

6 thoughts on “Walmart’s “Made in the USA” Ad

  1. I suspect Walmart has moved to buying American because of profitability. Labor costs are rising in China and elsewhere, energy prices are becoming more competitive in the U.S., and transportation costs and logistics have proven to be more costly than was thought not so many years ago. That means more manufacturing back to the States. That allows Walmart to play on patriotism while really making a profitability decision. Also lost on so many is that manufacturing returning to the States doesn’t mean as big a number of jobs returning as people think. Twenty people with lunch pales going to work on the assembly line, which is what many people imagine, is really one highly trained professional at a command station running robots. Walmart is just making the most profitable decisions they can while parading a patriotism narrative that wins them good will. Smart move.

    1. Interesting comment (and certainly fits with an article I read a bit ago in the Atlantic [?] on the revival of manufacturing in the US). I get the self-interest but still think we should call them on the message they are trying to sell.

  2. One other thought, how does $250B compare with what they have always done? Is this really a shift or is this just lifting out what they have doing all along, putting it into a narrative, and letting people draw the conclusion (falsely?) that this a big shift? I have no idea.

  3. Thing is, this reminds me of their “Made in America” campaign they did back in the ’90s. Y’know, the one where they featured Sweaters USA employees, and then weeks after the ads ran, abandoned the contract for offshore products that were a few pennies cheaper. And thenput big, bold, “Made in America” signs on racks full of “made in China,” “Made in Indonesia,” etc.

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