Wal-Mart Stores for the past few years has made a concerted effort to turn the tide of public opinion in its favor.
Recent reports have indicated that the colossal discounter was having some success in that area, winning over some former critics with its environmental initiatives and its efforts to make health care more affordable for its workers.
But although it seems the company's image was becoming a bit less tarnished, the emblem it wore — its corporate logo — remained the same, at least until last week.
The new logo, apparently unveiled accidentally when it appeared on some documents filed with a local planning board, is a lighter, friendlier version of the heavy block type that had stood as the company's nameplate since 1981 (a star replaced the hyphen in 1992). Perhaps the refreshed look will help the company shed some of the baggage that was attached to the old symbol.
The differences between the old logo and the new one are stark, with the shift away from all-capital letters, the elimination of the star/hyphen and the addition of a stylized starburst at the end that looks like it could represent a flower or the rays of the sun.
The new logo “is bright, more upbeat, friendlier than the old one,” a designer friend told me. “Removing the star and using sun rays, and not using all capitals, makes it a little bit more personal. The sun rays are almost like a :)”
The contrast between the two logos brings to mind a comedy routine by the recently late George Carlin, in which he compares the serious, macho contest of American football with the more genteel, “pastoral” pleasures of a baseball game.
In his riff, Carlin, speaking in a manly baritone, described how football players “march into enemy territory” by balancing an “aerial assault” with a “sustained ground attack.”
“In baseball,” he quipped in a cheery tone, “the object is to go home! And be safe!”
The old Wal-Mart logo would have fit nicely across the shoulders of a linebacker in Carlin's brutally masculine world of football. The new one would look more at home in Carlin's carefree vision of baseball.
The old Wal-Mart logo said, “I am a big box — Get your lawn mower here, and grab a case of soda.”
The new logo says, “I am a bit stylish — Buy some nice, practical clothes here, and perhaps some organic juice.”
The old logo said, “I will crush your green spaces with acres of concrete and asphalt.”
The new logo says, “I recycle!”
And so on.
Certainly, the new logo will not stop some critics from jumping on every misstep Wal-Mart makes as it seeks to gain inroads in areas where it has met resistance, such as California. It merely amounts to a friendlier flag for the company to wave in its public-relations battle.
Traditional supermarket operators also should not let down their guard: On the gridiron of food retailing, Wal-Mart is still out to level the opposition with a crushing helmet-to-helmet blow, pretty new logo or not.