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Walmart Goes Hollywood, Tapping Star Directors for Oscars Campaign

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Walmart is going Hollywood, tapping star directors to create three 60-second ads to air on the Academy Awards on ABC Feb. 26 in the giant retailer's first appearance there.

Walmart has challenged directors Antoine Fuqua, Marc Forster and filmmaking partners Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg to make the 60-second "short films," based not on a play or a book, but a Walmart receipt. The six items on the receipt are bananas, paper towels, batteries, scooter, wrapping paper and video baby monitor.

The Hollywood Reporter originally reported the deal with the filmmakers earlier today.

"Agency partners were definitely involved, both on the [Saatchi & Saatchi] and [Publicis Groupe] side," said spokeswoman Meggan Kring. Plans were in the works before Haworth was officially named Walmart's U.S. media agency earlier this month, she said. The effort is a move by Walmart to get a place in popular culture on par with its retail footprint.

"Being a part of the Academy Awards is a great way to connect with our customers in a fresh, new way," said Walmart U.S. Chief Marketing Officer Tony Rogers in a statement. "As the world's largest brand, and a company that sells just about everything, we plan to be more involved, more engrained in the cultural moments that our customers care about, starting with the Oscars." Every receipt tells a story "as diverse as the customer who shops us," Mr. Rogers said. "We think of our business beyond simple transactions."

He described the campaign an "unexpected way of telling our brand story" and "a perfect fit for a night where compelling storytelling is celebrated." Walmart is teasing the campaign on its website at Walmart.com/thereceipt.

Often called the "Super Bowl for Women," the Academy Awards are likely well over the cost of a single Super Bowl spot for Walmart. Kohl's, last year's exclusive sponsor with five spots and a total of three minutes on the broadcast, spent an estimated $9 million on media, according to iSpot.tv. Historically the broadcast has had an exclusive retail sponsor, with JC Penney having held that position for 14 years prior to Kohl's appearance last year. But Ms. Kring couldn't immediately confirm if Walmart has a category exclusive.

This is the first of multiyear sponsorship of the Oscars, Walmart said, though it didn't disclose the length of the commitment or spending. But the effort also includes a $250,000 donation to The Academy Grants Program for FilmCraft in the name of the participating directors. The donation "demonstrates Walmart's continual commitment to diversity in filmmaking," the company said.

Even prior to this, Walmart sponsored an annual Bentonville Film Festival in partnership with Geena Davis, among others, aimed at encouraging diversity in casting, direction, writing and production of films. The third year of the festival is set for May.

Michael Francis, who has considerable Hollywood ties as former Dreamworks chief marketing officer, is now a Walmart marketing consultant and was part of the team involved in putting the deal together, Ms. Kring said. But the retailer always has had deep ties to the entertainment industry by virtue of selling so many DVDs and CDs, licensed goods, and streaming video via Vudu. Among other things, that's given Walmart leverage to draw an endless stream of stars to its annual shareholder meeting in Arkansas each year, but now its putting Hollywood to work entertaining customers in ads, too.

"This was a wonderful challenge from Walmart," said Mr. Fuqua in a statement. The director known for the Academy Award-winning film "Training Day" and other action thrillers said the Walmart work lets him "tell an extraordinary story shaped around six ordinary objects."

Mr. Forster, director of "Monster's Ball" and "Kite Runner," said, "The uniqueness of this challenge from Walmart allowed me to exercise my passion for storytelling in a very exciting way by crafting a story that revolves around people's everyday needs, wants and desires."