Walmart has been called many things by many people, but what may be the most intriguing is what Chief Marketing Officer Stephen Quinn called it in a pitch to marketers at the Association of National Advertisers conference last year -- an "experience platform."
The appellation came in the process of rolling out what he termed Walmart's "Retail Development Kit," something akin to the software-development kits that online platforms offer their developers as ways of building their brands and businesses. It includes everything from co-op TV ads to in-store TV to ads on Walmart.com or the opportunity to piggyback on Walmart social-media programs, such as its store-specific "My Local Walmart" program on Facebook.
Others, such as Target , have promoted themselves as media choices for the brands distributed in their stores through extensive co-op advertising programs, such as 2010's "Life's a Moving Target " campaign." Kmart and Kohl's operate the sort of media plays retailers have long tried -- such as circulars advertising items and prices, and paid for from brands' trade-promotion funds. But brand marketers and shopper-marketing specialists say no one has plied the retailer-as-medium platform quite so extensively or aggressively as Walmart.
Walmart is primarily looking to its RDK program as a way to move products through its stores. But because it can reach as many as 200 million households weekly in 3,600 stores and through various print, electronic and social media, as Mr. Quinn described it, it also happens to be one of the highest-reach media options to be found in an increasingly fragmented media landscape.
In many of those cases, the retailer's media, even in-store events, are sold and handled by third parties. These include PRN handling the Walmart Television Network and Walmart Smart Network; Time Inc. selling All You magazine ads distributed primarily through Walmart checkout and aimed at Walmart shoppers; and Shopper Events, a joint venture of brokerage firms Crossmark and Advantage, which handles in-store sampling events inside Walmart.
Third-party dealings or no, a big part of Walmart's media appeal is the perceived ability to influence one specific audience -- Walmart store buyers -- according to executives of brands that buy the retailer's media.
Walmart TV, on its own, might still be a worthwhile media buy from a return-on-investment standpoint, said an executive with one household- products marketer. But Walmart TV doesn't come under the same sort of scrutiny other media buys do, because it's also believed to help influence Walmart buyers and merchandizers to give brands shelf and special-display space, the marketer said, noting a recent front-of -store display for a product launch that coincided with a Walmart TV buy.
But Walmart has been a leader in creating media options for advertisers that go beyond simply trying to tap trade-promotion dollars and are positioned as real alternatives to other media, such as Walmart.com advertising via Triad Retail Media, said Greg Murtagh, CEO of Triad.
"If you look at other retailer sites, I don't see [Internet Advertising Bureau] standard ad units or content-rich areas that brands can sponsor," he said. "What I see is a tactical trade program."
Of course Mr. Murtagh has a vested interest, Walmart.com is the biggest piece of Triad's business, which sells ads on retailer sites and did about $120 million last year. It could reach $500 million within a few years, according to his estimate.