Walmart reports ad delays as it brings services in house
Some brands are experiencing delays in the deployment of their Walmart ad campaigns due to what the big-box retailer is calling unexpected glitches as it moves the work of serving advertisers to an in-house team. Previously Walmart had been using Triad, an outside agency, to manage advertising on its website.
A Walmart spokeswoman confirmed the delays, but says that the retailer is working closely with the advertisers to inform them of any problems. No campaigns have been canceled, the spokeswoman says.
“We are migrating remaining accounts from Triad to Walmart Media Group and, as with any transition, there can be delays,” the spokeswoman said in an e-mail. “But we’re committed to the best possible campaigns for our brand partners and are in close contact with them as we work through the delays.”
Several agency executives spoke on condition of anonymity for this story and declined to name the brands affected. One advertising exec says that brands are still working with Walmart to figure out the full ramifications of the delays. There are also questions about whether Walmart will have enough ad inventory available through its website to accommodate all advertisers.
“There is no guarantee they can fulfill what was promised at the beginning of the year,” says the agency exec.
Walmart is building its own ad platform and network, harnessing data on consumers and their shopping habits to help brands promote products on its website and beyond.
Now, as part of its advertising evolution, designed to compete with rival Amazon, Walmart is making changes to how it services brands and will only assign staff to assist the ones that spend a certain amount with the company, according to people familiar with the changes. That means that brands spending below a certain threshold are being relegated to a new self-serve ad buying system, where they can execute their own online ad orders.
Providing different degrees of service based on ad spend is not uncommon for digital ad platforms. Amazon, for instance, gives the white-glove treatment to its most important brands. It can offer them better data services and help with planning campaigns, and sometimes in a pinch, simply being able to talk to a human is a perk.
Walmart declined to say how much money advertisers need to commit to get top treatment.
The agency exec who spoke on condition of anonymity said the move made some advertisers feel like less of a priority. “They’re creating tiers for advertisers,” the agency exec. “Tier one, tier two, and if you’re tier three, they are not going to do much for you.”
Lower spenders are also being denied special hands-on services like having Walmart customize brand pages that showcase products on the website, the agency exec says.
Walmart only took on the responsibility of handling the ad business this year, so some amount of turbulence is to be expected. In February, Walmart announced it was ending its work with Triad, the agency that managed all its digital ad operations.
Walmart's white whale
Amazon is expected to hit $11 billion in digital ad revenue in the U.S. this year, according to eMarketer, and now U.S. retail rivals like Walmart, Target and Kroger hope to make gains in the space too.
In April, Walmart bought Polymorph Labs, an ad tech startup, which showed the company was interested in building its programmatic ad platform—which facilitates automated ad campaigns that advertisers can set and manage online. Walmart also is unifying digital properties, including Walmart.com, Jet.com, Bonobos and Vudu, the ad-supported streaming video service, to pool its ad inventory to cater to larger ad campaigns.
Most advertisers who spoke for this story concede that Walmart’s early stumbles in transitioning away from Triad are only temporary. While some advertisers may be inconvenienced, they won’t likely hold a grudge when it comes to committing money next year.
Brad Stockton, VP of video innovation at Dentsu Aegis Network, is working with Walmart on testing ads in Vudu, and says there haven’t been any problems. Right now the ad campaigns are mostly smaller scale, reaching limited audiences to just “test the pipes,” Stockton says.
“The big benefit you have with a retailer like Walmart is they’re sitting on a gold mine of data,” Stockton says. “As they emerge in advertising, we’re keeping a tight eye on them to partner closely and understand how they’re going to grow the business.”
One of the biggest hurdles to creating a successful online ad ecosystem is generating enough ad inventory and having enough customers to give brands an audience to make it worth their while. One of the advertisers says that there are concerns around the availability of inventory through Walmart's fledgling ad ecosystem. The retailer still has to develop more varieties of ad units and find more places to run the ad units on Walmart.com.
“Their media offerings are limited,” says another ad exec at a top brand advertiser. “I could see that they had success in selling out the inventory, but if they can’t deliver the traffic, then they are going to under-deliver.”