Walmart's first Super Bowl ad is a bonanza of pop-culture references

Ad promoting curbside pickup brings together 'Star Wars,' 'Star Trek,' 'Back to the Future,' 'Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure' and more

Published On
Jan 30, 2020

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Walmart will air its first Super Bowl commercial–a super-charged version of last year’s pre-game ad about the convenience of curbside pickup of online orders–as it defends itself against increasingly aggressive Amazon.

The 60-second ad from Publicis Groupe’s Department W, which will run in the first quarter, is a licensing bonanza for entertainment companies with scenes or characters from a dozen movie or TV franchises, led by Disney's "Star Wars" and "Toy Story," plus extended appearances from NBCUniversal properties that include "Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure" and "Back to the Future." Scenes from or allusions to the films "Arrival," "Blade Runner," "Star Trek," "Guardians of the Galaxy," "The Lego Movie," "Mars Attacks," "Marvin the Martian" and "Men in Black" are also included. All are united by an interest in picking up curbside orders from Walmart.

Walmart’s national ad comes as the world’s biggest retailer has been outgunned in recent weeks on TV by rival and fellow Super Bowl advertiser Amazon, which has been heavily advertising its move to free two-hour home grocery delivery for Prime members.

Walmart outspent Amazon Prime by a two-to-one margin—$105 million to $52 million—since December, according to data. But since Jan. 1, Amazon Prime, not counting other Amazon units, has outspent Walmart $38.3 million to $23.4 million.

Walmart will also air another 60-second ad that falls just short of a national buy, with airings in 90 local markets covering 80 percent of the U.S. population during the game, a spokeswoman says. That ad, “United Towns” from FCB, focuses on Walmart as a national unifier due to its central presence in towns across the country. It’s the second recent ad from FCB  for Walmart in the Spark series following an ad in November. To the tune of Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” a narrator intones: “We don’t just see United States. We see united towns.”

In a Super Bowl where many advertisers have been trying to keep their distance from polarizing ads planned by Donald Trump and Michael Bloomberg, the unity theme might strike an interesting counterpoint. But that’s not the idea, Walmart’s spokeswoman says. The focus is on “our associates and our customers and the spark we can be in communities to make things better,” she said.