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Is There A Subliminal Message In Walmart's Minimum Wage TV Ad?

As the ad boasts of raising pay for workers, the number 15 flashes across the screen. While $15 an hour may be a national goal for minimum wage campaigners, the company says the number was "chosen at random."

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It has been a good week for the Fight for 15, the national movement to raise pay for low wage workers to $15 an hour. From New York to California and D.C., cities and public institutions have moved closer to pay hikes that center around the number, more than twice the current federal minimum.

Today, a union-backed campaign is calling for a Federal Trade Commission investigation into a Walmart commercial it claims is "unfairly implying that workers are paid enough to support themselves and their families."

While campaigns are complaining the ad as a whole is misleading, there's one moment in particular that stands out to those who have been following the Fight for 15 (remember to turn the sound on):

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Walmart announced earlier this year that it would raise entry-level wages to $9 an hour in 2015 and $10 next year.

The commercial's full voiceover is: "There are no medals won for earning a living. It's just what you do for family. But it's hard to build a future if you can't see past today. That's why Walmart is investing in the most important part of our company. Our people. Because a raise in pay raises us all."

That message didn't sit well with some campaigners.

"While it is true that Walmart announced wage increases this year, it is a flat out lie to imply that workers now make enough to live on, especially since so many still struggle to get full-time, consistent hours," said Jess Levin, communications director for the union-backed Making Change At Walmart campaign.

Here's the full commercial:

View this video on YouTube

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When asked about the choice to light up the number 15 just as the commercial talks about pay, Walmart spokesperson Kory Lundberg said the aisle 15 image "was there to symbolize serving customers."

"Back before the holidays we had an announcement we'd have more lanes open to serve customers, so that was to symbolize the lanes are open and the lights are on," he said. "It could have been register 5 or 25. It was picked at random."

According to Levin, research organization Americans for Tax Fairness found that, even after the planned increases are implemented, many Walmart employees will still qualify for public assistance, and the Better Business Bureau's National Advertising Division (NAD) questioned whether the commercial implied Walmart workers can now support themselves with their wages.

NAD asked Walmart to permit them to conduct an internal review but Walmart declined. "Walmart disagrees strongly with the NAD's framing of the issues and with NAD's determination that certain alleged claims may reasonably be implied by the commercial and thus require substantiation," the retailer said in a letter dated June 23.

The letter said it is beyond the NAD's mandate to "opine on the adequacy and terms of Walmart's commitment to its associates" as well as "policy issues currently playing out on the national and state level, including what constitutes a 'living wage,' what level of income is sufficient to 'raise a family,' and what employers must do in order to say that they are helping their employees 'build a future.'"

Added Lundberg in an email, "When you look at the specific claims the NAD makes, those claims are not in the commercial ($15/hour, living wage, etc). I think that's pretty significant."

Said Levin, "We know Walmart can afford to do more. And until it does, it is up to the FTC to ensure that Walmart's commercials aren't making false suggestions about the so-called 'raise in pay.'"

Cora Lewis is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Lewis reports on labor.

Contact Cora Lewis at cora.lewis@buzzfeed.com.

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