How Walmart Wants Brands to Fuel Its Content Engine

'Print Plus' Digital Links to Circulars Will Create Even Bigger Need for Brand Content

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Walmart is revving up its "content engine," and it wants brand marketers to supply the fuel, though it can also come from consumers or even the Defense Department.

Recent Walmart ad featuring Blake Shelton took four days from brief to air.
Recent Walmart ad featuring Blake Shelton took four days from brief to air.

In particular, earth's biggest retailer is preparing an enhanced "Print Plus" program pairing digital "liquid content" from brands with its 80-million-circulation weekly circular. Brands will supply such things as recipes and how-to videos customers will see as they pass their smart phones over the print ads.

Walmart executives made the pitch at the Path To Purchase Institute's Shopper Marketing Summit in Schaumburg, Ill.

As he detailed how Walmart churns out more content in an April 9 presentation, Clint McClain, senior director-marketing communications platforms at Walmart, said, "I'd be surprised if 15% of the content comes from us," adding that he expects supplier will furnish "at least 90%."

Ken Mantel, senior director-marketing at Walmart, didn't divulge exactly when Print Plus will roll out, other than "soon." But Walmart's plan to enhance rather than scrap print is good news for beleaguered print and newspaper industries, given recent speculation by Safeway that it may end its print circulars by year end.

Print and TV continue to work well for Walmart, said Senior VP-Marketing Tony Rogers in an April 10 panel discussion. And while search and Facebook marketing have also worked, he expressed doubts about digital and mobile display, citing his own experience being re-targeted the past two years by display ads for Chicago Cubs gear because he once bought Cubs merchandise for a Little League team he coached.

And he made an even more direct plea for brand content. "We have a good marketing department, but it's not that big. So we need your help," Mr. Rogers said. "I bet you're sitting on content that together we can take and put in front of the right customers."

In particular, he cited multicultural marketing, one of Walmart's top priorities and one where he said the retailer could give marketer's content scale and reach.

Mr. McClain cited the example of customers scanning a Ragu ad in a Walmart circular and getting four recipe choices, which when clicked could populate a digital shopping list with ingredients.

Walmart executives didn't divulge exactly what scanning technology Walmart will use, but said the retailer already has had 7 million downloads of its smartphone app.

The same Ragu scenario could play out at store shelves, Mr. McClain said. "Somebody asked me the other day, will anybody actually scan something at a shelf and watch a video and get a recipe?" he said. "My answer was, 'Not a lot of them, but out of 140 million people [Walmart's weekly customer count] you don't have to have a huge percentage to make a difference.'"

Suppliers aren't the only ones fueling the retailer's content engine. For an upcoming ad touting its pledge to hire any honorably discharged veteran starting Memorial Day, Walmart relied mainly on emotional homecoming footage supplied by the Defense Department.

"We didn't shoot it. We curated it," Mr. McClain said. "Instead of spending a million dollars on a big epic shoot with jets flying over, we just simply got the content people loved and put it together."

Walmart the curator, he said, also adds value to brand content by giving it third-party credibility. Of course, curation also helps Walmart save money and time. "We don't want our agencies to think we're painting the Sistine Chapel," Mr. McClain said, "because that's expensive."

As it expands real-time marketing, including shooting 30 ads each Monday that run in local markets by week's end, Walmart is learning to work faster. In the airport while on vacation recently, Mr. McClain got a call about a chance to have Blake Shelton in an ad for a new CD. He wrote the brief in the airport, and the ad was shot and aired within four days.

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