To Give or To Get – Calling into Question Walmart Ad #FillTheTruck


Walmart is running a heartwarming Ad about children and gifts.

Walmart calls this a Social Experiment and the TV version of this Ad concludes with the claim that 80% of the children chose to give than get. Sounds plausible. Right?

I do not make this about the children nor am I calling into question their true unselfish giving nature. It could very well be the case but the point is Walmart’s experiment has several errors that make us dismiss this completely.

The Ad starts by asking a set of children, “What do you want for Christmas?”. They all answer with their favorite things. Then the questioner asks them, “What does it feel like to open the present”. The respondents oblige by sharing their true feelings. So we can say they sufficiently primed the subjects, putting in the mindset to fell good about getting presents.  A video caption tells us, “Some people think kids only care about getting presents”

Then they pose the experiment question,

Okay, you have a choice. You can pick out any toy in Walmart and keep it. Or you can give it to a kid who does not get many presents during the holidays.

Everyone featured in this video choose to give and make a statement. So does this prove that children overwhelmingly choose to give than get? Before you decide look at these errors

  1. We do not know if the subjects are randomly chosen.
  2. This is not a controlled test with control group and treatment group. There is no baseline measurement either.
  3. The subjects know they are part of the experiment. They are in Walmart and told about their choice. So they adapt their behavior to suit the experiment (Demand Characteritics)
  4. They experimenter is right there with the subjects and when posed the question the children are more likely to give an answer that they believe will please the experimenter. Or they are more likely to give an answer that make them look good. This is the Social Desirability bias.
  5. Their choice to pick any toy from Walmart. May be the subjects do not like any toys from Walmart. What if the option is cash? Or a more popular option not available at Walmart?
  6. This is also the case where they have the option to get a new present above and beyond what they are going to get from their family. It is likely most thought this was not their present to begin with (opposite of endowment effect). So there is likely higher propensity to give away something not owned. Consider two variations:
    • Ask the child to pick any toy first. Tell them it is theirs to keep. That is, create endowment. Then give them the choice.
    • Ask them to agree to give away a randomly selected present from what they receive from their family.

      In either cases you will find markedly different results.

It is quite possible children are lot more generous and may be more than willing to give than get. But we do not have data and Walmart’s social experiment fails to provide that data.

Finally the Ad ends asking parents to give this choice to their children and post the video. That results will be more telling.