Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

The Walmart Mom Question

Today, as I received yet another email about this post I wrote last week, I understand what it must feel like to be a politician after a story is leaked to the press that YOU DID inhale during that one time you said you smoked pot in college, and now you have to pose  at a press conference, your conservatively-dressed wife at your side, your hooker girlfriend as far away as possible, as you strongly condemn all forms of drug abuse and promise, if elected, to start a new WAR ON DRUGS.

In politics, these leaks always come from an old roommate still pissed at you for stealing his girlfriend twenty-five years ago.  In blogging, proof that bloggers are mostly idiots with no career potential, we LEAK THESE INCRIMINATING STORIES ourselves!

Of course, as blogging becomes more professional, bloggers are growing smarter and more media savvy.   Let me re-phrase that.  Some bloggers are growing smarter.  As we become brand enthusiasts for Kraft and Walmart, we move beyond just telling stories about our lives.   We become representatives of something bigger than us.   A company or a cause.  And that is great.  But it gives me pause.  I wonder if I would have written my post, or many of my posts, if I was a brand ambassador for Nintendo or Sony?  Would my writing feel stifled?  Would there be any repercussions for writing about my past real-life actions?  Is my image, and what it represents to the company, more important to the company than my “real” self?  Is this what the exciting field of social media is all about, turning us all into one-dimensional avatars, the online equivalent of air-brushed celebrities,  so we can effectively market products  to each other?  No wonder why social media mavens love Twitter.   Marketers can speak to many at once, without really interacting with anybody.

Frank Rich, in one of his last NYT columns of 2009, named Tiger Woods as his “person of the decade” because he symbolized everything wrong with a decade where branding, PR, and illusion became more celebrated than the reality outside.  Frank Rich sees the decade as filled with con men, “influentials” eager to bamboozle their gullible victims.

The men who played us for suckers, whether at Citigroup or Fannie Mae, at the White House or Ted Haggard’s megachurch, are the real movers and shakers of this century’s history so far. That’s why the obvious person of the year is Tiger Woods. His sham beatific image, questioned by almost no one until it collapsed, is nothing if not the farcical reductio ad absurdum of the decade’s flimflams, from the cancerous (the subprime mortgage) to the inane (balloon boy).

Enron?  The Housing Market?  The Stock Market?  Baseball players with monster steroid bodies?  “Reality” Television?  Bernie Madoff? That was the decade. The blogosphere mirrored this fakery as marketers, SEO, and PR experts became our gurus, promising us big bucks and millions of followers, but mostly making themselves well-known by writing about marketing.

For six years, Tiger Woods was the multi-million dollar advertising face for Accenture, the big consulting firm.  While this firm has nothing to do with golf,  Accenture liked having their advertising campaign revolve around “high performance,” and Tiger Woods certainly fit that bill. The firm just didn’t realize how “high performance” he was!

Accenture is “a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company,” but who cared about any fine print? It was Tiger, and Tiger was it, and no one was to worry about the details behind the mutually advantageous image-mongering. One would like to assume that Accenture’s failure to see or heed any warning signs about a man appearing in 83 percent of its advertising is an anomalous lapse. One would like to believe that business and government clients didn’t hire Accenture just because it had Tiger’s imprimatur. But in a culture where so many smart people have been taken so often, we can’t assume anything.

After Mr. Woods confessed to infidelities, Accenture had a PR nightmare.  They immediately purged all record of Tiger Woods from their existence.

On Sunday, hours after Accenture ended its sponsorship deal, the golfer’s face was replaced by an anonymous skier on the company’s home page. His name was scrubbed almost completely from the rest of the Web site. The company’s advertising campaign is about “high performance,” and Mr. Woods “just wasn’t a metaphor for high performance anymore,” a spokesman for Accenture, Fred Hawrysh, said.

By Monday afternoon, Accenture staffers had swept through the company’s New York office and removed any visible Tiger posters. The next day, marketing and communications employees around the world were asked to turn in any remaining Tiger-emblazoned posters and other materials. Accenture marketing employees did not respond to requests for comment about the Tiger purge on Wednesday.

This was a relationship based solely on business, not unlike so many of the “friendships” we have online, where we follow and unfollow each other daily, depending on the direction of the wind.

So, basically  — Can a Walmart Mom write a post about the time she stole some jewelry at Walmart when she was 17 and still remain a Walmart Mom?

If I start sleeping with a high class hooker, do you want to hear the stories about my adventures, or do you want me to hide them from you, so that I maintain my good “brand.”

Do I know any of you at all?

25 Comments

  1. I’ve seen you in your pajamas. I think that counts for something.

    I also think you need to get John Mayer’s album, Battle Studies.

  2. I get a little sick of pundits talking about Brand You.

    I am me, a person, with strengths, weaknesses, faults, virtues and errors of judgement. The internet puts them out for all to see. Potential employers. Medical insurers. Tut-tutters of every kind.

    That’s why I use a pen-name. Not that it’s a guarantee of anonymity.

    The only defense, I feel, unless one wants to hide completely (and not enjoy the many personal rewards of online discourse) is to make sure that the good stuff you put out there overwhelms the bad.

    Kind of like life in general.

  3. That right there is why I don’t accept sponsorship for my blog. (I do, however, have a review blog, but that has slowed down and honestly? I am glad it has.)

    I want to write what I want, about what I want, how I want, when I want. If I were to take on a sponsor or advertisers (even just to cover hosting expenses were I to migrate away from blogger) I feel like I’d lose something.

  4. I don’t know. What jumped out at me was “…proof that bloggers are mostly idiots with no career potential…”. Ouch. But a thought that’s been occupying my head space for the past few months.

    I like John Mayer’s new CD. You should get it!

  5. You know me. You’ve seen more of me than most people. *snicker* (Speaking of more of me – my boobs are on 24 today.) Ok – back to your brilliant post – that is why I’m not a WalMart mom. No one would have me. I use bad words, talk about my boobs and sex … I’m not good material for any advertiser. I’m actually very proud of that! : )

  6. I don’t know. Maybe I’m ignorant or just slow to move with the times, but my blog is just as insubstantial and real as it was six years ago, and I kind of like it that way. I never wanted it to be about money. I always wanted it to be about me. Sometimes that meant I wanted to be popular, but now I think it just means I want to remember who I was on any particular day. WalMart can stick it.

  7. I never had any big sponsors or anything, but even so, I feel much more like myself now a year after I quit blogging. Well, I do have my private homeschool blog. I say I quit blogging because I now write exactly what is on my mind (no time for heart though) without worrying about trying to be funny or using clever writing devices or pandering to an audience.

  8. The only company that ever offered me anything was Eden Fantasys and ironically, I was embarrassed by THEM – not that I have anything against well-made sex toys, but I am a bit prudey and I just could not go there.

    I censor myself because my family and friends bust me on pretty much everything I say. I don’t need advertisers to do it for me.

  9. Excellent points, Neil. It seems to me that Twitter is more about trying to sell things to others than communicating. It’s one thing to have shared interests; quite another to just be another sales pitch possibility. As for blogging, there are many, many personal things I don’t write about, mainly because of my work. If I were going to write really personal things, I’d password-protect the blog. I don’t want every Tom, Dick and Harry knowing my personal business and making snap (often false) judgments based on one story or one post.

  10. I think it’s all scaleable. If a company decides to put me on the payroll to such an extent that they are supporting my family, then my “public” face becomes a more professional one and I tailor what I do online to my employer. But if I’m blogging for a product or a trip, of course not. My “public” life is still mine. Companies can take me or leave me.

    Honestly, not sure which one I would prefer. There are many people who can’t participate in social media because they would get in trouble with their employers – they’ve tailored their off-work lives to meet the demands of their bosses. But they have steady jobs. Which is tempting some days.

  11. It stands to reason that when we “give every man our ear and few our voice” there is less room for gaffes of any sort. Of course… the man that wrote that was busy giving everyone his voice.

    It goes back to accountability; if each one of us takes ownership of our words and actions (and our reactions), we create a forum where differing viewpoints and comprehensive truths can be explored.

  12. I, for one, would love to hear all about your high class hooker sexcapades.
    And as for Tiger NOT being high performance enough for Accenture, pfft! I mean really??? How many people was he dogging at the same time…that takes talent.

  13. I don’t know. I mean, I think blogging is like “writing 2.0” – it gives us a forum to showcase our talent (or horrible lack of talent). If we want to monetize SOME of our blogs via affiliate relationships and Google ads, then I think that’s okay as long as there’s full disclosure.

    I’m personally amazed at the humanity that exists on Twitter and on blogs – there are terrific examples of it everywhere (I’m thinking of bloggers who have experienced personal tragedy that motivated other bloggers to come to their aid). Look at FatCyclist.com – he’s really my blogging hero.

    I understand you’re cynical. I get that. But I think that hypocrisy, blatant self promotion, shallow pseudo-relationships, shameless self interest (etc. etc.) don’t define blogging – All this stuff defines some of the people who blog. It just means we shouldn’t believe everything we read.

  14. I’ve never commented before, but have been following you in google reader. I wanted to finally say something because I don’t think you should be beating yourself up or being attacked for something stupid you did as a teenager. I don’t know you and I don’t know the real under-lying reasons for what happened or why you made the impulsive decision you did, but I’m guessing you wouldn’t do it again. Comparatively, there are so many worse things a man is capable of doing to a woman. I am a woman and I know what they are first hand.

    I think sometimes it’s easy to make sweeping judgments about men based on how the individual men in our lives have treated us.

    Finally, I think sometimes, male or female, we’d rather not be faced with the raw honest realities of human interaction. We find it easier to forget that people are, in fact, human and that being so doesn’t mean they are no more than those mistakes.

    I can appreciate where you’re coming from and think it’s a brave thing to admit publicly. One question: did you ever apologize? If you were to see her today, what would you do or say?

  15. Ah- I see you did apologize. Well, at least you tried I guess.

  16. I bet there was no apology but because of the cyber-burning-at-the-stake he inserted it. Neil is a great writer but there are lots of great writers – falls into the ‘so what’ catagory. To be a compelling writer he needs to open the raincoat and flash us at times…it’s awesome when he does. I’ve been blogging for 4 months so I am a shaky legged bambi-blogger. I only do it for mental smoke breaks as a release from a crazy job so I didn’t even know people made money at this, lol.

  17. Regarding your last line – I think it would be foolish to think that we knew one another in a full way just from our blog/twitter interactions. We all know parts of one another, maybe the way the blind men “knew” the elephant. That isn’t necessarily bad, just incomplete.

  18. That was what I call a fascinating post. I work in advertising, and so am at least minutely responsible for a small part of our shallow culture. But on my blog? There ain’t no lying, hiding or polishing of turds. I am who I am…and that’s probably while I’ll never be a Walmart mom.

  19. Um, well, I don’t know about anyone else, but I really want to hear your stories about sleeping with a high class hooker. Just saying.

  20. Can a Walmart Mom write a post about the time she stole some jewelry at Walmart when she was 17 and still remain a Walmart Mom?

    Sure she can. There are so many variables. I have had ads and sponsors on my blog for around three years or so.

    That includes 3k posts about kids, sex, death, fiction and political rants. Blog as you want to blog. Unless you are paid big dollars to do otherwise, just be yourself.

  21. People can’t make enough money at blogging to make it worth it. Get a paper route and be yourself.

  22. High class hooker stories are always welcome. As far as I’m concerned, those would only improve your image in my mind.

  23. PLEASE write about the hooker adventures, if you become a brand just let them know you can’t sell out.

  24. I can’t wait for the story to leak regarding what you did to a Brita Water Filter!

  25. i am in the small is good camp so it is easy to say i would never be a walmart mama…they have never offered.

    it takes so much energy to blog in even the small ways that i do…i would never want this as a job.

    it was a weird decade, but it was also the one that marks the birth of my boys, which quite redeems it in my eyes.

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