Walmart Changes Playbook, Buys NFL on Thanksgiving Day to Push Black Friday

Budget-Conscious Retailer Has Rarely Bought TV During Games

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Walmart has been an advertiser on National Football League broadcasts over the years, but the budget-conscious retailer has rarely bought a lot of TV time during games due to the cost. That's changing, however, as the giant retailer steps up its NFL advertising this Thanksgiving to support its Black Friday sales.

"We're doing more with the NFL around Black Friday than we've ever done," said Walmart U.S. Chief Marketing Officer Stephen Quinn during an interview at the Association of National Advertisers Masters of Marketing Conference earlier this month in Phoenix. Days earlier, Mr. Quinn's boss, Duncan Mac Naughton, Walmart's U.S. chief merchandising and marketing officer, teased the retailer's investment in the NFL at a meeting of the National Beer Wholesalers Association in Las Vegas. "Football, family and beer, that's what I am talking about," Mr. Mac Naughton said in a presentation, after showing a reel of NFL highlights.

The NFL is "one of the properties that I think will resonate with each one of you," he told the distributors, while reiterating Walmart's goal of doubling beer sales in the next three years.

As for why the retailer decided just this year to use the NFL on this year's Thanksgiving, Mr. Quinn said: "I don't know why we didn't figure it out sooner." The NFL is, after all, the primary TV event on the day before the Black Friday holiday-shopping frenzy -- which for Walmart and other retailers now essentially begins Thanksgiving evening while the leftovers are still being packed away.

"What we've found is that [NFL advertising] also works with our associates, so it has a magnifying effect," Mr. Quinn said, noting that the $466 billion retailer's workforce has a lot of football fans, and engaging them helps build buzz.

"When you have 1.5 million associates," he said, "it blows things out to a whole different world of impact."

Walmart isn't an NFL official sponsor, and the league didn't have any direct influence on the company increasing its NFL involvement this year, said NFL Chief Marketing Officer Mark Waller. But several big Walmart suppliers are official sponsors, including Anheuser-Busch, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble Co. and Campbell Soup Co. -- and some of those sponsors, too, have stepped up NFL efforts this year.

Pepsi for the first time expanded its NFL promotions to include all 32 teams, regardless of whether it has pouring rights for their stadiums, and backed an ad in September aimed at getting people to stock up for game time with PepsiCo products at Walmart. It joined Procter & Gamble, Campbell and several others that launched ads in September, treating what the NFL calls "back to football" time as a bookend to the Super Bowl creative showcase.

Mr. Waller bills NFL viewing as something that brings families together for viewing in a way no other U.S. sport can -- particularly on Thanksgiving.

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