The Martin Agency’s new ads for Wal-Mart have finally hit the air, and I’m shocked to report that — urban cynic that I am — even I was touched. OK, so the company exploits its workers, squeezes its suppliers, and does other nefarious things, but it also delivers on its central promise: to save people money. And the Martin Agency’s ads capture that message so appealingly that you’re tempted to forget the rest.
The set up: a family, in an SUV, with bikes strapped to the back, is heading off on vacation. They swing by Wal-Mart (all you see is the parking lot), ostensibly for provisions. Then they head out on the open road. Shots of the kids fighting in the back seat. Checking into a motel. Jumping on the bed. Cannonballing into the pool. Stopping at an alligator farm. Eventually nearing the exit to Orlando. The tagline: “Wal-Mart saves the average family $2500 a year. What will you do with your savings?”
It’s essentially an homage to the MasterCard “priceless” campaign, but pitch perfect. Who doesn’t remember those long family car trips, the boredom of the road, the thrill of a motel, the excitement of a pool? And if Wal-Mart can claim to enable that, it’s staked out a position on the side of the angels.
Back in March, folks from Wal-Mart happened to be in the Martin Agency offices in Richmond the same day I was there, reporting a story on how the agency managed to snatch the most coveted account in the business when Draft FCB fumbled the ball.
I met with them, hoping to get their take on what Martin offered that they found so appealing. It wasn’t a comfortable chat. Agency folk, in previous interviews a rollicking band of brothers, clammed up in deference to the client. The Wal-Mart spokesman – Tony Rogers, a young marketing executive – appeared to be under strict orders from Bentonville not to say anything that could be used against the company in the lawsuit with Julie Roehm. The ground rules were set at the opening bell: questions about the account debacle were strictly off-limits.
But Rogers finally warmed up when we started talking about the company, and its mission. The guy had clearly drunk the Kool-Aid, but delivered his pitch on Wal-Mart’s higher purpose — saving people money so they can live better — with such earnest intensity I couldn’t help but be charmed.
“Our customers live better because we exist,” he told me with undisguised fervor. “ We save the average American family $2300 a year (a number, btw, confirmed by Global Insight). Our customers redeploy the money we save them into other parts of their lives. So it’s actually an incredibly noble mission, when you look at it through that lens.”
At the time, I remember nodding sagely, and repressing a snicker. Sure, buddy, I thought. Tell that the foreign sweatshop workers, the employees on Medicaid, the mom and pop stores forced out of business. But it’s the Martin Agency’s genius that for the space of 30 seconds I, too, was willing to put aside all my snarky skepticism and believe.
But once you’ve cleared your misty eyes, log on to Youtube, search for “Wal-mart” and “roadtrip” and view real shoppers’ riffs on what happens when a road trip and Wal-Mart aren’t being viewed through the lens of a $580M account……