Walmart Brings Back the Smiley Face in Ads and in Store

Technically, Smiley Never Really Went Away, but He's Back as Face of 'All Low Prices'

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The Walmart smiley face is making a comeback, Walmart U.S. Chief Operating Officer Judith McKenna told a gathering of the company's employees today.

Well, technically, the smiley face never went away. He was just "behind the scenes" as Chief Marketing Officer Tony Rogers explains it on the Walmart blog. Now, he'll be featured in Walmart TV and digital ads in in-store signage again. In one new 15-second ad posted today, Smiley lurks over a girl fishing from a pier with a really low price on a Zebco rod and reel.

Smiley still saw occasional commercial use, or at least if he didn't, don't tell the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which might view that as an abandonment. Walmart first used the Smiley logo in 1990, applied for a trademark on it in 2001, and was granted the trademark for retail use in 2009. Despite the movie depiction, Forrest Gump was not involved in creating the logo. But French designer Franklin Loufrani, who developed a similar logo in the 1970s, failed to block Walmart's application before the U.S. PTO. The two sides settled a lawsuit in 2011.

By then, Smiley already had been de-emphasized in favor of Walmart's spark/asterisk logo, adopted in 2008. As the retailer looked to attract more upscale shoppers and appear a tad more sophisticated under former chief marketer and later chief merchandiser John Fleming in the last decade, Smiley disappeared from Walmart uniforms, ads and store displays.

"Back in the day, Smiley was the face of rollbacks," Mr. Rogers said on the Walmart blog. "Today, he represents all low prices." Walmart store associates briefed on the plan to bring Smiley back to ads are "really excited," he said.

"As retail evolves," he said, "there are elements that are timeless. Today, as much as ever, our customers need us as their advocate for low prices. Smiley represents that commitment."

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story said Walmart CEO Doug McMillon announced the return of Smiley.

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