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Walmart’s Oscar Ads Were A Great Idea That Ultimately Flopped

The brand swung for the fences with a fun concept and big name directors.

Walmart’s Oscar Ads Were A Great Idea That Ultimately Flopped

The end of the Oscars provided the biggest WTF moment of the night, perhaps the biggest in awards show history. But prior to that, in advertising circles at least, one of the most WTF moments was whenever another ad from Walmart’s “The Receipt” campaign aired.

It was a great idea. Find three directors, with distinctly different styles, give them the same creative parameters and let them go. The brand and agency Saatchi & Saatchi New York enlisted Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Quantum of Solace), Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer), and the duo Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad, Sausage Party), giving them one generic Walmart receipt to base a short film on. As Oscar ad campaigns go, it’s a pretty unique concept with great potential.

But the results were, to be generous, mixed. Not long after they began to air, the WTF tweets began to pop — what was this about? What’s going on? Why aren’t there any women directors? All questions that, as a marketer, you probably want to avoid.

Walmart said the company did reach out to women directors but it didn’t work out, mainly due to scheduling. That hiccup–and largely unacceptable–excuse aside, as Oscar ad concepts go the ambition behind this idea was admirable.

Saatchi & Saatchi New York chief creative officer Javier Campopiano says the brief was quite simple: Walmart at the Oscars. “It felt like an amazing opportunity to celebrate the ‘live better’ side of Walmart’s promise, while tapping into the aura of magic and imagination that is so unique to the Oscar’s, which is the main reason why so many families get together to enjoy the event,” says Campopiano. “The challenge was to create a campaign that could connect these two seemingly distant worlds: the everyday lives of our customers and Hollywood movies.”

Walmart’s senior vice president of marketing Kirsten Evans says the idea for using a receipt as the foundation came about from thinking about the brand’s customers, what they’re buying, and what the story is behind their items. “So we took that concept and thought about how a single receipt seen through an artistic lens can tell an infinite number of stories,” says Evans. “We really believe that each receipt tells a story as diverse as the customers who shop us, so we were excited at the creative possibilities.”

Ultimately, the creative responsibility lies with the directors. Would you even be able to tell the Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg directed “Bananas Town”? There probably would’ve been more brand value if they somehow got Rogen to mention Walmart during his fun Back To The Future moment with Michael J. Fox.

Perhaps it didn’t all work out as planned, but the Oscars has become a Super Bowl 2.0 for many advertisers, which means the pressure is on to elevate those creative ideas. “Unlike the Super Bowl, where the competition in terms of storytelling is the advertising, at the Oscar’s you’re sharing airtime with some of the best examples of visual narrative and craft out there,” says Campopiano. “That makes the context extremely demanding. It creates extra pressure to exceed the audience’s expectations and truly capture their attention which tends to wane throughout the night. A great ad is made up of a strong idea and exceptional craft, if you have those elements and are also able to create relevancy to the context, to the world of movies, then you’ve got a perfect 10.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor and writer with Co.Create. He's a former staffer at Advertising Age, Creativity and Canadian Business magazine.

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