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Why Walmart is Bringing Back the Smiley Face

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (CBS NEWS)- Walmart (WMT) is reviving its yellow smiley image to be the face of its low-price marketing.

The nation's largest retailer is emphasizing customer service and aiming to reinforce a price leadership claim that's been chipped away at by increased competition from online leader Amazon.com and other rivals. The smiley, dormant for ten years, has returned to some digital advertising and will be in TV ads and some store signs starting next week. From there it's likely to expand.

Walmart, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, announced the move Wednesday at a gathering of about of 2,600 mostly hourly U.S. workers that's tied to this week's annual shareholders meeting. The rally featured speeches from top executives about how to serve customers, including the importance of putting on a happy face.

"Put that smile on. People notice that," said "Family Feud" host Steve Harvey, who played the game with a few executives along with a cashier and driver. Workers also received "smiley" buttons to wear.

Nearly 70 percent of Walmart's customers still associate the smiley with saving at the stores, even though it has been largely absent for a decade, Chief Marketing Officer Tony Roger said on Walmart's blog.

The discounter initially gave out "Smiley" stickers to store shoppers in 1990, and the image later became the face of what the company calls "rollbacks" -- discounts for a set period on key items. The face was then incorporated into characters like Zorro and Robin Hood. But it virtually disappeared in 2006 as the company shifted its marketing focus.

It will be the face of Walmart's low-price marketing again as the company tries to increase sales at its namesake U.S. business. Walmart's U.S. discount division just reported its seventh straight gain for a key measure as its efforts on basics like cleaning up its stores and increasing customer service are helping business.

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