Shopdropping at Wal-Mart: A Retail Experiment

Debbie Millman takes products of her own design to a Wal-Mart Supercenter to see how they hold up to the competition.

Ever since Marcel Duchamp appropriated mass market objects and pronounced them “readymades” and Andy Warhol elevated the Campbell’s soup can and Brillo Box to art, artists and designers have been blurring the lines between fine art and commerce. In recent years, a new form has advanced art’s adaptation into the world of commoditized goods. Known as “shopdropping,” this technique is the opposite of shoplifting, in which a variety of redesigned products, packages, and objects are clandestinely left in mainstream retail outlets alongside their original counterparts.


I decided to try my hand at this clandestine endeavor and created three “products” in the classic structure of the Quaker Oats cylinder. Titled Hope, Love, and True, and labeled “FREE,” I placed them within a Quaker Oats endcap in a Wal-Mart Supercenter and witnessed the long journey the packs took from shelf to “purchase.” Even in today’s economy, this effort makes the concept of shopping until you drop a bit more palatable.


Can you tell the difference? One product is good for your heart, the other is made from your heart.


Unbeatable prices: Quaker Oats cost $3.12, but Hope and Love are free.



Hope and True move down the conveyor belt in the checkout line.


Wal-Mart employee Darlene graciously poses with Hope.


Going home from Wal-Mart with Hope. [And yes, that really is Debbie’s car, with the license plate DSGNMTRS. -Ed.]

Read Debbie Millman’s blog Look Both Ways
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Debbie Millman has worked in the
design business for over 25 years. She is president of the design
division at Sterling Brands, where over the past 15 years she has
worked on the redesign of global brands for Pepsi, Procter &
Gamble, Campbell’s, Colgate, Hershey and Hasbro. Prior to Sterling, she
was a senior vice president at Interbrand and a marketing director at
Frankfurt Balkind. Debbie is president of the AIGA, the professional
association for design. She is a contributing editor at Print Magazine
and the Chair of the Masters in Branding at the School of Visual Arts.
In 2005, she began hosting the first weekly radio talk show about
design on the Internet,
Design Matters with Debbie Millman, which is now featured on Design Observer. She is the author of two books, How To Think Like A Great Graphic Designer
(Allworth Press, 2007), and
The Essential Principles of Graphic Design (Rotovision, 2008). Her third book, Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design, was published by How Books in 2009.


About the author

Debbie Millman is a writer, designer, educator, artist, brand consultant, and host of the podcast Design Matters. She was named “one of the most creative people in business” by Fast Company, and “one of the most influential designers working today” by Graphic Design USA


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