Each year, the National Retail Federation funds a study to determine the largest retailer in the United States. And year-in and year-out, Walmart tops that list. The most recent list, for example (that’s the 2018 list, which is based on 2017 data), has Walmart in the top slot by a lot — it comes in with $374.8 billion in sales, more than double than second-place Kroger at $115.89 billion. (Amazon, at $102.96 billion, was in third.) With more than 5,000 stores across the country, Walmart doesn’t have a hard time getting people to visit their stores.
But marketing doesn’t stop, and in 2012, Walmart wanted to bring attention to their stores’ Facebook pages. That’s mostly a local endeavor — there’s no reason for a person in Cincinnati, Ohio to “like” the Facebook page for a Walmart in Austin, Texas. To incentivize people in 5,000 different communities, Walmart ran a contest: your town could win a free concert at its local Walmart, headlined by the rapper Pitbull. All you had to do was to make your Walmart the nation’s most famous one on Facebook.
The campaign, sponsored by a company called “Energy Sheets” (they make this, but it’s not important) kicked off on June 20th of that year. Walmart shoppers were encouraged to “Like” their local store; whichever store had the most Likes on its Facebook page on July 15th was to be declared the winner. In normal circumstances, a place with a large population would have won. But that’s not what happened. The winning city? Kodiak, Alaska — a city unreachable by car (you need to take a ferry), and with a population of only about 6,000.
The reason? The Internet has a sense of humor.
Shortly after the contest was announced, David Thorpe and Jon Hendren, a pair of admins on the SomethingAwful message boards, came up with an idea. Using Twitter’s hashtag parlance, the two aimed to “#ExilePitbull” to Alaska. All they had to do was get a lot of people to “Like” the Walmart Kodiak’s Facebook page. Leveraging the message boards, Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook itself, they spread the idea far and wide. Even Pitbull himself tweeted about the campaign. And when July 15th came, Walmart Kodiak had more than 60,000 Likes, per Mashable. That was ten likes for every person in the town, and more importantly, it put Walmart Kodiak in the lead in the Energy Sheets/Pitbull contest.
Pitbull, to his immense credit, followed through on the contest’s promise. In a video announcement (via Rolling Stone) he proclaimed “I heard that Kodiak, Alaska, has the most likes due to someone who thinks he was playing a prank. But you gotta understand, I’ll go anywhere in the world for my fans.” He posed with a taxidermied bear, put on a show at the local Coast Guard base, and yes, visited Walmart. And he even invited the lead pranksters to join him on the trip. Thorpe took him up on the invitation and, before July was out, the two met up in the Alaskan city.
From the Archives: Unmixed: An odd ocean water phenomenon that occurs near Kodiak.