Wal-Mart spot rings bell for Salvation Army

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with target embroiled in criticism for banning Salvation Army bell ringers from its storefronts for the second consecutive year, Wal-Mart is running a TV spot prominently featuring the iconic red kettle in front of its store.

The commercial, from Bernstein-Rein, Kansas City, Mo., features Antonio Banderas standing in front of what is obviously a Wal-Mart store. The red kettle is the only color in the otherwise black and white spot, which ends with the Wal-Mart and Salvation Army logos flashed on the screen.

The spot is notable since Wal-Mart, although never shy about touting its corporate giving or impact on jobs and employees, rarely runs ads touting its association with a specific charity. It also marks the first media push behind its longstanding partnership with the Salvation Army, according to the charity.

The ad follows what appears to be a behind-the-scenes tit-for-tat battle between the two retailers. On Nov. 14, in a press release issued by the Salvation Army, Target announced the development of an online partnership with the charity, allowing online donations at Target.com/salvationarmy.

Just three days later, on Nov. 17, a release on the Salvation Army site announced that "Wal-Mart expands `Red Kettle' Campaign and Helps Launch National `Online Kettle."' Wal-Mart upped the ante and touted in its release plans to allow the red kettle drives at all 3,800 Sam's Club and Wal-Mart stores. Calls to Wal-Mart for comment were not returned.

Despite the online partnership, there is no way for shoppers to donate money directly to the Salvation Army through Target. Instead, Target shoppers are asked to donate store gifts cards and other Target merchandise to the charity. To donate money, they must follow the Web link to the Salvation Army site. Melissa Temme, a spokeswoman at the Salvation Army's national headquarters in Alexandria, Va., said the non-cash arrangement with Target is the first of its kind with a national retailer and a compromise the charity had no choice but to accept. "There was either nothing or something," Ms. Temme said.

It's an interesting arrangement since this form of philanthropic support helps the retailer's bottom line, while the kettle drives would have given the charity organization cash directly.

Target declined to comment on the Wal-Mart spot or its online partnership with the charity, referring instead to a media statement released in November. "Target has a long-standing no-solicitation policy at our stores. In order to provide a distraction-free shopping environment for our guests, we do not allow solicitation or petitioning at our stores regardless of the cause being represented," the statement reads.

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