As Walmart critics bring public attention to Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s role on the retailer’s Board of Directors, negative public sentiment toward Walmart could undermine Mayer’s efforts to revive Yahoo’s brand image.
Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer stoically faced a number of controversies during her first year at the helm of the troubled internet company. Those mostly subsided and analysts have so far given her executive leadership the benefit of the doubt.
But Mayer now faces a controversy that may not go away so easily. Walmart workers say the company has been illegally firing and disciplining members of OUR Walmart, a group formed to advocate for better wages and working conditions. And they say Mayer has ignored repeated requests to talk with them about it.
After OUR Walmart members protested at Yahoo! headquarters and the Yahoo! shareholder meeting last month, Nicholas Carlson of Business Insider wondered aloud (well, in a blog post) whether “the distraction of being on Wal-Mart’s board is worth it for Mayer and Yahoo.” The Financial Times reported that her appointment as Yahoo! CEO had made Mayer “a new lightning rod for criticism of Walmart.”
This got us to wondering whether Walmart’s reputational problems might become an issue for Yahoo!, which is struggling to recover from a series of failed business strategies and chaotic leadership changes.
According to Amplicate, a social media analytics firm that tracks and analyzes millions of opinions expressed on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, 57 percent of opinions expressed about Yahoo! over the last year were negative – not great, but not a death sentence either. On the other hand, 77 percent of opinions expressed about Walmart were negative.
Other measures confirm Walmart’s image problems. The company came in last among Department and Discount Stores on the American Customer Satisfaction Index in February. And Walmart’s image has apparently taken a beating over the last year among college-educated adults.
Perhaps the best indicators of Walmart’s image problems are the company’s own recent efforts to recover from all the negative publicity, namely the multi-million dollar “Real Walmart” ad campaign and the annual shareholder meeting in June, where the company seemed preoccupied with rebutting critics.
As Yahoo! attempts a turnaround a strong and positive brand image can help it attract users, advertisers, and top engineering talent. Mayer’s selection as CEO last year was no doubt motivated both by her technological expertise and her evident PR savvy. But right now it looks like her connection to Walmart could undermine the sense of excitement and forward motion she brought to her new job.