It’s Official: $570 Mil. Wal-Mart in Play

DALLAS Wal-Mart has confirmed placing its ad account in review and a client representative said the retailer informed lead agencies GSD&M and Bernstein-Rein, along with various smaller roster shops, of its decision last Friday.

“We want to be sure we have the best possible resources on our marketing across all spaces,” the rep said, adding that the incumbents have been invited to participate. Both said they plan to defend.

GSD&M has worked for the retailer for the past 19 years. Bernstein-Rein has been on the roster for more than 30 years.

The client spent more than $570 million in measured media last year, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. No outside consultancy has been named to handle the review and no timeline has been established.

There is a chance the account could remain split. “We could choose one. We could choose many. It’s too early to know,” the client rep said.

Omnicom Group’s GSD&M in Austin, Texas, shares the assignment with independent Bernstein-Rein in Kansas City, Mo. Sources said the two shops split the creative workload equally, though Bernstein-Rein is the lead agency for media buying.

“GSD&M is ‘all in’—as Willie Nelson said in his song ‘Me and Paul.’ We’ve come to play, not just for the ride,” said Roy Spence, president and co-founder of GSD&M.

In September, Wal-Mart hired former Frito-Lay CMO Stephen Quinn as svp of marketing, six months after naming former Target executive John Fleming as CMO to replace the retiring Bob Connolly.

Changes in the executive suite have been mirrored by changes in marketing approach.

Through GSD&M and Bernstein-Rein, Wal-Mart has given its print and television ads a more upscale look in keeping with its move away from price-oriented messages.

The most recent work, launched in February, introduced “Look beyond the basics” as a tagline. Both the TV and print ads are presented as mini-testimonials, each of which features a shopper who tells the story of a trip to Wal-Mart that leads to a pleasant surprise. The shoppers go to Wal-Mart in search of something they need, like chips and salsa or light bulbs, and end up buying something they did not intend to purchase. The ads feature Metro 7, a line of clothing targeting fashion-conscious urban women that launched at Wal-Mart last fall, and bedding.

This story updates an item posted earlier today with client confirmation and other details.