As featured in The Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, and more!

Walmart’s Nazi Ad

This article was written by in Consumer. 7 comments.

Walmart published an advertisement in an Arizona newspaper depicting a Nazi book-burning. The intent was to compare the censorship with a local proposition that would prevent Walmart from expanding its stores in the area.

They have since apologized and fired the individual responsible for the ad, but what humanity, what hypocrisy. The ad included this text: “Should we let government tell us what we can read? Of course not. So why should we allow local government to limit where we shop?”

In the mean time, Walmart regularly bans books and music the corporate executives feel is inappropriate. As a public corporation, they’re free to do that if it’s in the best interest of their shareholders. However, deciding that government’s attempted protection of small businesses is censorship and calling them out for it while self-censoring material they sell seems hypocritical.

Updated July 16, 2010 and originally published June 10, 2005. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

Email Email Print Print
About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .


avatar Nathan

While I do appreciate the irony of the situation, I don’t see it as hypocritical. The rights of individuals (and in this case corporations) doesn’t change the role of government. I’m actually in agreement with Walmart on this, I don’t think the govt should be allowed to make walmart specific laws especially when walmart is doing nothing wrong.

What the govt does is law. What walmart does is not law. We as consumers can always go down the street to buy the dvds and books we want. If the govt censors, it censors everything!

avatar Luke Landes

Walmart is within their rights to self-censor, but creating an advertisement with Nazi imagery belies the government’s intent and offends many people, regardless of whether the government should step in to protect small businesses. It’s a stretch to call the proposition or referendum censorship in the first place.

Perhaps I can believe that the one person in charge of the ad didn’t realize that book burning was Nazi imagery, and surely book burning existed before Nazism, but one would think that advertisements need some sort of committee approval before going to press and someone must have known.

avatar savvy saver

“Should we let government tell us what we can read? Of course not,” the ad said. “So why should we allow local government to limit where we shop?”

The government isn’t telling people they can’t shop at WalMart, they are saying WalMart needs to find another location, or not expand. If my neighbor’s house burns down and he decides to build a grocery store there, I sure as heck hopes the local gov’t steps in and tells him to take it elsewhere. If the government doesn’t think their community can support or sustain a WalMart, for whatever reason, then they should have every right to outlaw them. Afterall, communities regulate the locations of many other types of establishements.

avatar Jerry Kindall

The statement “Wal-Mart regularly bans books and music” is plain false. Wal-Mart can’t ban anything; it can only decide not to carry it in its stores.

avatar Luke Landes

I’m not sure how the decision not to carry an item is not effictively banning. I’m not saying Walmart is banning an item throughout society at large, it’s banning an item for sale store- or corporation-wide, through a policy delivered from headquarters. This is an accurate and common use of the word “ban.”

avatar Jerry Kindall

It’s a very unconventional use of the word — like saying if I don’t decide to buy a given book, I have banned it from my house. There are lots of books Wal-Mart doesn’t buy for one reason or another; none of these are “banned.” It makes no sense to speak of banning yourself from doing something; a ban by nature must come from elsewhere.

The phrase “banned in Boston” sure didn’t mean that some theater had merely not decided to put on a particular play!

avatar Luke Landes

I see your point. Putting aside the numerous news stories that have used the word “ban” in connection with Walmart’s policies, my point is that Walmart’s use of censorship imagery and Nazi imagery is more similar to that company’s policy of not selling or removing books [Jon Stweart's America (The Book) for instance] and music [a Sheryl Crow album for instance] it feels are inappropriate than the book-burning idea is to the government’s policy of zoning.

In addition to the “irony,” if they are truly worried about offending customers through the items they sell, why do they have no qualms about offending people through Nazi imagery in their commercial advertisements?