‘More dollars to experiential’: Why Walmart is still using experiential marketing to pitch Walmart+ — even during coronavirus crisis

Walmart is rethinking what experiential marketing means amid the coronavirus. 

In September, Walmart rolled out Walmart+, the company’s long-awaited membership program, with a tailored digital ad approach targeting different audiences with different ads based on data the company collected on how they shop at Walmart. Now, the the retail giant is adding experiential marketing to its media mix by working with influencers and media partners to bring some of the missed “special moments” that had been canceled throughout 2020 to life. 

For example, Walmart worked with NBC Sports to give a Seattle-based healthcare worker and his family the chance to watch the Seahawks first home game in the stadium. And recently, the company created an immersive trick-or-treat experience for one family to still have a typical Halloween experience. In doing so, the experiential marketing effort wasn’t about getting as many people to attend a physical experience at an event like South by Southwest or Cannes Lions but focused on one family or small group. Now, Walmart is finding ways to bring back a sense of normalcy to everyday life for one person or group and bringing that experience to a large audience on social media. 

“We’re not doing a big in-person experiential moment, but I think it actually scales the experience to more people to be able to see it and partake than the one-time experience,” said Jill Toscano, vp of media at Walmart. “We’re allocating more dollars to experiential with this media plan than we ever have in the past.” 

Walmart declined to disclose how much it is spending on experiential marketing; per Kantar, the retailer spent $630 million on media in 2019. The company also did not immediately respond to a request to break out, in terms of percentages, how much of its media budget is allocated to experiential for this effort. However, Toscano did say that Walmart “knew we needed to bring these experiences to life for Walmart+ because acquisition and performance media was just not going to do it on its own.” 

Aside from the NFL, Walmart plans to use experiential marketing to acquire new customers for the Walmart+ membership with activations with media partners including Allrecipes, HGTV, PARENTS, People en Español, The Drew Show, The Food Network and NBC Sports Sunday Night Football. For some of these experiences, Walmart is using social media to get consumers to enter for the chance to win one. 

“The way to make it relevant to folks is that a lot of the content and action is being integrated into these larger platforms [that we’re partnering with],” said Toscano. “Drew Barrymore will integrate the call to action [to sign up for Walmart+] and then is going to share highlights of the experience on her show. Same thing with HGTV.” 

Even as Walmart looks to tweak experiential marketing from a mass experience to an experience for one family shared broadly on social media, what will matter most for Walmart+ will be the actual experience of the program. 

“It all comes down to, Does Walmart+ have the table steaks in place to compete with Amazon?,” said Duane Brown,  founder and head of strategy at Take Some Risk, a performance marketing agency. “That’s what people are going to do. [They’re going to] compare offerings. Maybe see how Walmart is different and or better if possible. If my experience doesn’t match what I saw on social media, that’s going to be an awful experience.”

That being said, some believe Walmart’s approach to bringing experiential back to the mix could become a popular strategy overall.

“One of the benefits to experiential campaigns was the ability to let consumers interact with a brand or product in a way that made them want to capture that experience and share it on social, effectively expanding reach without any additional spend,” said Katy Wellhousen, senior account director at influencer marketing agency RQ, adding that brands are now creating experiences for one person or smaller groups with the hopes getting a boost on social.


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