In a strategy to attract 13-18 year old kids and their back-to-school dollars, Wal-Mart has launched a teen networking and content sharing site called “The Hub.” Unlike sites, such as MySpace.com, that serve as its model, The Hub is highly controlled. Consequently, many would agree with the remarks in a recent AdAge article that The Hub “proves just how painfully uncool it is to try to be cool.”
Developed in collaboration with Sony, The Hub opens with video footage of four (for all intents and purposes) hip teens, who talk about what they do, who they are, and what “School My Way” means to them. Despite the youthful appeal, however, these are clearly actors reading a script, even though the videos are positioned as authentic amateur submissions. Individual blog entries featured on the landing pages seem to be scripted as well. (Example: “Although summer is fun for relaxing, sun, swimming and travel, I always look forward to heading back to school in the fall. Back to school is always a time where I get excited to see my friends and shop for new clothes.”)
To avoid issues associated with the dark side of sites like MySpace.com, registration is required to submit content. Submissions are accepted “pending approval,” and Wal-Mart’s policy includes emailing each registered teen’s parent, giving them the option of pulling a submission.
While Wal-Mart is making a great effort to win more vital teen apparel dollars away from Target, AdAge interviewees revealed that the site has not gotten the reviews it sought.
“Some of the kids looked like they were trying to be supercool, but they weren’t at all, and they were just being kind of weird,” said Amy Kandel, 14, of Columbus, Ohio.
“Are these real kids?” asked Pete Hughes, 18. “It just seemed kind of corny to me.”
Industry watchers see dangers in Wal-Mart’s approach. “The tight controls will work against Wal-Mart’s goal to make the site more edgy and will instead cement the retailer’s image as a conformist brand,” said Tim Stock of New York-based Scenario DNA, a research firm devoted to studying Gen Y.
But the stakes are high. “Wal-Mart really needs this to work,” said Irma Zandl of youth-marketing firm Zandl Group. “Over the last year, we have been getting increasingly bad feedback from teen girls about Wal-Mart in contrast to Target ”
Discussion Questions: How can retailers successfully tap into the explosive internet networking and content sharing trend while avoiding the pitfalls?
Can Wal-Mart succeed with their attempt?
To me, The Hub misses the main point by discouraging individual expression. Yes, there are some decent prizes for the top three videos and top three pages.
But as one teen quoted in the AdAge article puts it – “it, like, takes a lot of time, and it’s not very likely you’ll win.”
I speculate that if Wal-Mart were to use its considerable resources to create a better, truly authentic MySpace-type site, they might actually get results.
Hey…with their resources, they could probably launch a shuttle to Mars as well, but… “you know, it’s like not their business.”