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Walmart Will Return to Oscars Ads, Enlisting Female Directors

Walmart wants to go to the movies again.

The large U.S. retailer will advertise for the second consecutive year in ABC’s Oscars broadcast, refining a concept that sparked word of mouth in 2017.

As it did last year, Walmart will run short 60-second films during the awards-show telecast, but this time each will be devised by one of three female directors: Melissa McCarthy, Nancy Meyers and Dee Rees (above, pictured). Each advertisement starts with the depiction of the chain’s blue shipping box, and then continues with the director’s interpretation of where it goes to, how it arrives and what’s inside.

Walmart executives say they aren’t trying to cash in on the “#MeToo” movement, but simply put on a show, of sorts, that will resonate with the audience watching the annual awards. “We are aware of the conversation going on, but we are looking to be integrated authentically into the show,” says Kirsten Evans, senior vice president of marketing for the company. “Being a part of a really entertaining night is the sole purpose of what we were trying to accomplish.”

Even so, the maneuver shows that no matter the impression made by an ad campaign, the people behind it can never rest on their laurels. There’s always room for tweaking. In 2017, Walmart used the Oscars to run a series of short films during ad time featuring three different directors’ looks at a Walmart receipt. Marc Forster, Antoine Fuqua and the pairing of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg took part. The ads were noticeable, but some media outlets pushed back on Walmart for not being able to include any female directors in the effort.

In 2018, the retailer will team up with Women In Film Los Angeles, an advocacy organization that works to achieve parity for and advance the careers of women in the entertainment industry. As part of the campaign, three up-and-coming female filmmakers will be able to shadow the three directors as they set about to create the Walmart Oscars pieces.

“There is kind of a long-held belief in the entertainment industry that the pipeline of talent isn’t deep enough and I think that it is starting to shift, and that this is representative of that shift,” said Kirsten Schaffer, the organization’s executive director.

ABC has been seeking anywhere from $2 million to $2.6 million for a 30-second ad in its March 4 Oscars broadcast, according to media buyers and other people familiar with the negotiations. ABC’s 2017 Oscars telecast was one of the least-viewed sessions of the event since 2008 – 34.4 million, compared with 34.3 million in 2016.

Walmart is interested in using the event to get consumers to think about the retail outlet in a different way, said Tony Rogers, the company’s chief marketing officer. “We haven’t always been front and center in these types of events,” he acknowledged. “We are trying to change that. We like the idea of Walmart as a brand being part of the public discourse and the public conversation.”

Publicis Worldwide is helping Walmart on the creative execution while Haworth is negotiating for media time.

The commercials, the executives said, are meant to get a big audience of consumers to think about Walmart in a different way, and not necessarily aimed at getting them to run to a store immediately upon seeing the cinematic ads.

What anyone sees on Oscars night won’t be known until the directors complete their assignment. “They can really do what they want to do,” said Evans. “As long as there’s a blue box.”

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