The Spot: Modern Families

Walmart applies a light, comedic touch in Martin's conveyor-belt campaign

Headshot of Tim Nudd

GENESIS: The brief was relatively broad: communicate that Walmart has low prices on a wide variety of products—and make an emotional connection along the way. The Martin Agency started with the idea that every shopping cart tells a story and developed a playful, repeatable structure around it. New ads begin with products on a conveyor belt, with one item not like the others, then show comic vignettes of families using the stuff in goofy ways at home. The approach lets Walmart emphasize overall cart savings versus dollar stores and lends the chain a personable vibe. "Value brands do well with humor," said Greg Warren, Walmart's vp of creative marketing strategy. "Southwest Airlines, Holiday Inn Express, Ikea. I think Walmart deserves a space in that array." The plug-and-play construct also helps Martin churn out the high volume of spots that Walmart demands.

COPYWRITING: In "Younger Skin," one of nine new spots so far, the products are a razor, makeup, Olay cream (P&G is a co-branded partner) and . . . rubber spatulas. At home, two sisters watch mom apply the anti-aging cream—and decide to test it on their grandfather. "Grandpa's going to be so happy when he wakes up," says the older girl, as they use the spatulas to slather him up. "Yeah, he's going to look like a baby," says the younger one. The writing has a modern-sitcom flavor. "It is quirky, but people are quirky," says director Brian Aldrich. "In something like Modern Family, there's a truth that percolates, which people relate to. A connection like that is invaluable to any advertiser." Martin creative director Vanessa Fortier adds, "There are a lot of warm and fuzzy family commercials out there. We're trying to stretch it and find the unexpected."

ART DIRECTION: The conveyor-belt shot is simple and stark. The domestic scenes have an authentic, lived-in look. "We wanted to keep it simple. Two setups at the most," says senior art director Matt Davis. "The angles and lenses can't be weird," adds group creative director Joe Alexander. "It's got to feel like you're there." Aldrich kept the frame stationary to let the stories unfold by themselves. "Once you start getting overly pretentious with the visuals, you build a veneer," he says. "Then the characters aren't as authentic as you want."

FILMING: The ads have been shot on a single block in Altadena, Calif., that has a "quintessential middle-America feel," says Aldrich. The agency typically shoots two spots in a 14-hour day. They have to work quickly anyway with child actors, whose hours are limited by law.

EFFECTS: Editor Adam Svatek came up with a slam-in effect, along with a whooshing sound, for the transitions in and out of the home scenes. This adds a cartoony feel that enhances the comedy.

TALENT: Tom Kane, the voice of the Oscars, does the narration. His bemused tone also dials up the humor. "It just sounds like he's telling a story. 'There was a prince, and there was a princess, and there was a . . . frog?' " says Davis. The mom in the spot is a veteran commercial actress who often plays the straight role (notably, as the mom in Geico's "Piggy" spot, also by Martin). The girls, found in casting, are so believable because they were told the cream would really work. "They're not in on the joke," says Aldrich. Grandpa was committed, too—and kept asking if there was enough cream on his face.

SOUND: The beeping scanner at the outset sets a rhythm. The bouncy music at the end adds a modern, memorable vibe—"a sunny, upbeat wrap-up," says associate creative director Trent Patterson.

MEDIA: The ads have wide reach on broadcast and cable, says Warren, plus Facebook and YouTube. The new animated cart icon, a visual signature, is getting play in digital and in-store applications. Warren likens the campaign to MasterCard's "Priceless," and says it's a "big, enduring idea" that should have staying power.


Seven more spots from the campaign, plus full credits, below.

All of the conveyor-belt spots mention an "Ad Match Guarantee" at the end. This spot, running alongside the others, explains what that guarantee is.


Client: Walmart

Agency: The Martin Agency, Richmond, Va.

Chief Creative Officer: John Norman

Group Creative Director: Joe Alexander

Creative Director: Vanessa Fortier

Associate Creative Director: Trent Patterson

Senior Art Director: Matt Davis

Copywriter: Deric Nance

Art Director: John Szalay

Director of Integrated Production: Steve Humble

Agency Executive Producer: Dan Kaplan

Agency Producer: Meredith Knight

Assistant Agency Producer: Liza Miller

Assistant Agency Producer: Emily Noechel

Production Company: Furlined

Director: Brian Aldrich

President: Diane McArter

VP/Executive Producer: Eriks Krumins

Senior Executive Producer: David Thorne

Line Producer: Jason Gilbert

Editorial: Beast

Editor: Adam Svatek

Editor: Paul Kelly

Editor: Val Thrasher

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.