Wal-Mart has unveiled a new strategy to counter criticism aimed at the world’s largest retailer through a TV advertising campaign that will focus on issues rather than products in an attempt to project the desired company image.

The ads, lasting between 30 and 60 seconds, will initially be aired in the test markets of Tucson, Arizona, and Omaha, Nebraska.

The campaign is a response to Wal-Mart’s long-running battle with union-backed critics such as Wal-Mart Watch and WakeUpWalMart.com. Wal-Mart’s opponents suggest that the company exploits its workers through low wages and aggressive labour relations policies. However, Wal-Mart hopes that these ads will counter the considerable negative publicity the company has received of late.

“This is part of Wal-Mart’s ongoing effort to talk about our commitment to the men and women who work for us, to the customers who shop at our stores, and to the communities we serve,” Bob McAdam, vice president of corporate affairs, explained. “The more people learn about who we are and how we strive to do better every day, the more they know that we are good for America’s working families.”

Through the ads Wal-Mart intends to highlight the positive impact it claims to have had on the lives of working families, addressing issues such as health care (the company offers eligible associates low-cost health insurance), job creation and charitable contributions. The retailer also claims that its low prices save “the average working family” more than US$2,300 each year.

However, these claims do not go uncontested. Wal-Mart Watch has said it intends to file truth-in-advertising complaints with authorities in Arizona and Nebraska, questioning in particular the retailer’s claim to save shoppers $2,300 a year. Wal-Mart took this figure from a study it commissioned from Global Insight. However the methodology and legitimacy of the study has been questioned by union-supported think tank The Economic Policy Institute and on this basis Wal-Mart Watch intends to challenge the corporation’s claims.