On August 9th, 2011, Walmart released an ad for its Back-to-School campaign series titled “Urgent Care.” The video, originally posted on their Walmart YouTube channel, features three teenage boys communicating by smart phone to identify an unknown skin condition. As part of his diagnosis, the boy using Web MD as a medical reference asks the one with symptoms if he has “been in the Congo recently” while simultaneously browsing a page on “Leprosy.” When the answer is “no” he responds: “Okay, well it still might be contagious. I think maybe you should call 911.” The commercial is only 30 seconds long, but, in its brevity, it manages to misinform viewers, entrench negative stereotypes, and endorse a cavalier attitude about the conditions of serious struggle in the Congo.
Many mobilizing a global response to this ad. Facebook Group started on August 22 to protest Walmart has already garnered more the 2000 members, most of them Congolese, who are calling the ad an “insult,” “offensive,” and “utterly inappropriate.” The Congolese community is demanding that the corporation take responsibility for this ad by:
1. Remove the “Urgent Care” ad from all forms of media circulation (TV networks, web, etc.),
2. Issue a press release delivering a public apology to the Congolese people about the ad, and
3. Educate and sensitize a.) Walmart's staff (especially the Marketing Department who approved the release of this ad) and b.) Walmart's customers by providing teaching materials that explain the situation in the Congo and what Walmart is doing to practice responsible sourcing as it relates to the Congo’s mineral resources.
Eyewitness reports confirm that the commercial has been airing on tv from Houston to New York City, so the problem is not limited to internet exposure. A simple retraction is not likely to satisfy those who recognize the seriousness of such public misinformation.
Corporations like Walmart need to understand that the American public will not support companies who promote aggressive forms of ignorance, especially when it comes to an unreported conflict in the world. Congolese and activists everywhere await an official response from Walmart that acknowledges this serious offense and explains how the company will answer demands for taking responsibility.
Friends of the Congo started this petition with a single signature, and won with 383 supporters. Start a petition to change something you care about.