Here's how Walmart is persuading advertisers to hop into its shopping cart
Walmart is not waiting to buy TikTok to plan its digital advertising future. No, the retailer has been steadily ramping up Walmart Media Group in a way that already connects into other social media sites, like Pinterest and Facebook, and it has been pitching brands on how they can tap its unique shopping data for marketing campaigns.
Last year, Walmart showed its strategy to take advertising more seriously by ending its relationship with Triad, a WPP agency that has since shut down, which used to handle Walmart’s ad sales. Walmart brought those services in-house and started developing a self-serve programmatic ad program, one that could compete with Amazon’s burgeoning ad platform. Target is making similar investments with its ad platform called Roundel.
“That space of retail media networks is a really exciting space,” says Todd Bowman, VP of e-commerce at Reprise, a digital and social media services agency within IPG Mediabrand. “They are all innovating so quickly. Walmart kind of had a slow-go of it when it moved from Triad because they had to start from scratch.”
Last year, there were concerns about Walmart’s ability to meet some of the ad commitments it promised to brands after it moved away from Triad. Walmart also still has a less-mature set of ad offerings compared to Amazon, which has a robust ecosystem with more marketing technology partners and agencies.
On Wednesday, Walmart Media Group faced more changes. Longtime leader Stefanie Jay left the company, putting the business in the hands of Rich Lehrfeld, senior VP of marketing, who will serve as the interim VP and general manager at Walmart Media Group. Walmart says it will run a search to fill the position. It’s unclear what the shakeup could mean for Walmart’s future in advertising, but it continues to be an important category to develop.
Ad Age received a copy of a pitch deck (below) from Walmart Media Group that was produced before the COVID-19 pandemic, but all the trends highlighted in the deck have only accelerated. And the pitch deck refers to ad technology that Walmart was ready to deploy in the first half of the year. The pitch deck is a window into Walmart’s communications with brands, most of them the consumer products, electronics, food and beverage, and apparel companies that fill its shelves.
Walmart has been opening its site to more display ads that splash across its homepage and within search results, and it also connects the marketers to sites outside of Walmart. Before the pandemic, Walmart had 12 million visitors to its website each day, according to the pitch deck. The company has long said it attracts a combined 160 million consumers to its stores and website weekly. The deck also says Walmart's site serves 16 million search queries a day, an important statistic because search is one of the main areas brands can place ads on Walmart.com.
“Walmart’s web traffic has increased 20% since May,” says one ad exec says, speaking on condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized to discuss Walmart’s advertising business.
Walmart is still just figuring out how to make its mark with digital advertising, and is not quite up to the sophistication of its larger rivals like Amazon and Google. “Display ads and other formats are starting to gain some traction but haven’t hit their critical mass yet,” says the advertising executive.
“We’re proud of the progress we’ve made in our Walmart Media Group business,” the company said in an email statement. “We have an important value proposition for advertisers, and importantly, it’s one that’s additive to our customers’ experience with Walmart.”
Walmart touts a growing marketing program with API partners—technology companies that plug into its Application Programming Interface to develop media buying tools, similar to how they work with Amazon, Google, Facebook and others. Walmart works with a tight roster of firms, including Flywheel, Pacvue, Kenshoo and Teikametrics.
Last month, Walmart announced a major store redesign coming to 1,000 of its 4,700 locations by the end of 2021. The new-look stores will integrate with the Walmart app. Walmart is developing its ad platform in a way that takes advantage of the app, the website and the stores. The pitch deck highlights all the possible ad placements that include “in-store” experiences.
Also last month, the retail giant launched Walmart+, a membership rewards program that competes with Amazon Prime and costs $98 a year.
Walmart is using its first-party data, the kind it collects from consumers shopping on the site, to target ads based on “behavior.” In the deck, Walmart claims ads targeted by “purchase-based” data are three times more effective than other targeting methods. The ads are based on the consumer’s prior interests, rather than simply relying on the context of a search.
As an example, Walmart shows how it could deliver an ad for, say, power tools, even when the shopper is searching for hair care products.
Walmart’s media platform can buy ads outside Walmart.com, too, on properties like Facebook, Google and Pinterest. Walmart calls those offsite campaigns “closed loop display” ads.
Walmart raised eyebrows this summer when it became an unlikely bidder in the sales war over TikTok, the Chinese-owned social video app with close to 100 million users in the U.S. The sales process may have stalled, but that doesn’t mean Walmart won’t look for strategic partnerships with either TikTok or other hot social media sites.
For Walmart the allure of TikTok very much lies in the way it could be used to expand the colliding worlds of e-commerce and social media.