Wal-Mart takes unique approach to the web

11 March 2010

BENTONVILLE: Wal-Mart, the retail giant, is making increased use of the internet both as an advertising tool, and as it seeks to move in to the space traditionally occupied by media owners.

The world's biggest retailer recently placed two prominent ads on the main page for Yahoo's coverage of the Oscars, as part of a more wide-ranging alliance between the two organisations.

Further elements of this tie-up have seen the discount specialist produce a variety of bespoke content for Shine, a Yahoo-owned platform targeted specifically at mothers.

This has included a sponsored "Makeover my movie night" video linked to the Academy Awards, and which featured brands like Unilever's I Can't Believe It's Not Butter and Kraft's Crystal Light.

Further clips have been based on cooking and shopping, and were supplemented by a number of related banners and interactive ads.

Moreover, the company has three mini-series running on ShineMake Home a Haven, Real Life Makeover and What's for Dinner? – with material also being spread across Yahoo's broader network.

According to the search firm, its partnership with Wal-Mart is the most complex such scheme it has undertaken with a single client to date.

It also predicted these combined efforts will mean Wal-Mart reaches 23 million mothers an average of 5.6 times, although other metrics will also be used to quantify the campaign's overall performance.

"Success will also be scored on insights we deliver. You can't say we have to deliver three insights or four or five. It's qualitative," said Mollie Spilman, Yahoo's svp, business-to-business marketing.

Alongside employing the internet as a marketing tool, Wal-Mart is developing its own online portal for use as an advertising channel by brand owners.

Walmart.com offers traditional display ads, as well as the ability to promote goods, such as with free samples or money-off vouchers that can be reclaimed in-store, in category-specific areas.

Brands like Listerine, the mouthwash owned by Johnson & Johnson, have also created tailored "experiences" on Walmart.com, featuring downloads, links to social networking sites, games and polls.

"Most people are coming to these websites to research and consume information about products, so it's a great place to be when you're advertising," PK Van Deloo, senior director of Walmart.com, said at a conference last year.

Wal-Mart, Target and CSN Stores are also adding sponsored search links to their pages in a similar fashion to Google, which provides this service to third-party portals via its AdSense system.

"The retail world is starting to realize that digital assets have an incredible value from a media perspective," said Chris O'Neill, director, retail at Google.

"This programme unlocks that value. ... And certainly in tougher times all businesses are looking for additional sources of revenue."

Alex Rampell, the ceo of TrialPay, an ecommerce services provider, argued this approach is part of a shift towards "transactional advertising", where major websites influence the decisions of shoppers.

“The titans at the top are Google, Amazon, Wal-Mart, and other 'aggregators' who ... hold considerable brand equity and/or organic traffic," he said.

"These have potential to be the new 'media' companies in a transactional advertising universe, odd as that might sound."

Data sourced from ClickZ, AdAge, Washington Post; additional content by Warc staff