Sometimes advertising intersects with reality in an ugly way: Just ask Walmart. The company says it is modifying a spot for one of its mobile phone plans after a handful of commenters on Twitter complained that the ad too closely mirrored the final words of Eric Garner, who died in police custody in New York.
The spot shows an African-American dad surprising his tween daughter with a new phone. She gives him a hug around the neck that’s so fierce it prompts him to gasp, “I can’t breathe.”
Deisha Barnett, a spokeswoman for the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer, says the ad first broke during its back-to-school seasonal push this summer, and promotes Walmart’s Family Mobile unlimited talk and text plan. But while the ad has been airing for months, the massive outcry surrounding Garner’s death -- much of it linked to social media using the #ICantBreathe hashtag -- caused at least a few people to see the ad in a new way.
Barnett says the company made the decision to pull the ad and create a new ending as soon as it noticed the comments. “We’re re-editing as we speak based on the feedback we’ve received,” it tweeted. “We can see how the ad could be viewed differently today than when it first aired.” It made that announcement Thursday, the same day the first complaint was posted.
The decision generated some positive comments on social media, applauding Walmart for its rapid response and sensitivity, but not everyone agrees. One critic, for example, posted the yanked ad on YouTube and cited it as an example of how “crazy and insane” people have become regarding Garner’s death. “This Ad was made months ago. How can this Ad be seen in any other way. A man with his overjoyed daughter hugging him. Really!!!!!! For the record I am black and I am offended that it's going to be edited.”