Did Walmart’s High-Concept Short Films on the Oscars Work?

See all three spots from 'The Receipt'

Bananas, paper towels, batteries, a scooter, wrapping paper and a video baby monitor.

Those were the six products at the center of Walmart’s “The Receipt,” a high-concept advertising project in which the big-box retailer got four well-known Hollywood directors to make three 60-second spots for the Oscars—that had to feature all six items, as listed on a Walmart receipt.

The directors—Antoine Fuqua (Southpaw, The Magnificent Seven), Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, The Kite Runner) and Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad, Neighbors)—were selected, Walmart said, because they are “known for telling very different kinds of stories.” (Walmart told Adweek that it did reach out to women directors, too, but that it didn’t work out, “mainly due to scheduling.”)

So, how the did the films turn out? Check them out below, in the order they aired on Sunday’s telecast:

 

1) “The Gift” by Antoine Fuqua

Fuqua goes full Close Encounters/ET with his entry, in which most of the items on the receipt are used to make a care package for aliens, who reciprocate in a way that reminds us, yet again, that emojis really are the universal language.

 

2) “Lost & Found” by Marc Forster

The most esoteric film of the three, Foster’s entry appears to involve kids scavenging in a post-apocalyptic, Star Wars-like world. The visuals are lovely, even if the story is a bit hard to follow.

 

3) “Bananas Town” by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

Rogen and Goldberg made a nonsensical little musical, with six vastly different scenes, each devoted to one of the six items on the list. There’s no denying the energy or impressive production design that went into this one, and it had a cute ending.

 

So, did the experiment work?

It’s clearly a vast departure from the kind of cost-focused advertising Walmart is known for, and a big embrace of branded storytelling. That’s appropriate for the one telecast that best celebrates stories. (In a blog post, the retailer said the whole project was about “being a part of the big cultural moments that are important to our customers and giving them something fun to enjoy.”)

The directors were clearly given plenty of freedom in crafting their films. But that came with one big exception—the whole receipt concept itself, which didn’t do the series any favors. As a way to get a shred of Walmart branding into the films, and as an organizational conceit to tie them together in a whimsical way, the “six items” idea must have seemed like a fun solution. But it ended up feeling limiting.

Storytelling isn’t about “things,” and the concept, however fanciful, felt like it distracted from whatever storytelling was actually going on underneath it. In the best case (Fuqua’s film), the story still came together fairly well. In the worst case (Rogen and Goldberg’s film), there was no story at all—just a stylish song-and-dance that felt frankly very Target-esque. Perhaps most disappointingly for films that were meant to delight, not a lot of people were talking about them in social last night.

Kudos to Walmart for trying something different here. But it would have been interesting if these directors had actually been given free rein to make whatever kind of Walmart ad they liked.

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