Walmart, which was founded five years before the first Super Bowl in 1967, has held out as an advertiser in the Big Game for more than 50 years. In 2020, however, that streak will end as the retailer debuts its first ad in the first quarter of Super Bowl 54.
The 60-second spot, “Famous Visitors,” may look familiar as it continues a theme Walmart used last year as well-known vehicles from franchises like Batman, Ghostbusters, National Lampoon and Back to the Future swung by its stores to pick up online orders. The Famous Cars spot debuted during NBC’s broadcast of the Golden Globes and aired right before the kickoff of Super Bowl 53.
This year, the customers featured in the in-game ad come from a bit further afield.
Janey Whiteside, evp and chief customer officer at Walmart, said customer feedback prompted a return to the concept, but Walmart “wanted to take that idea and really lean into it at the next level.”
“Famous Visitors … brings to light the out-of-this-world convenience of pickup with Visitors, who are 12 iconic characters together for the first time ever—and [who] can conveniently pick up everything they need,” she added.
Whiteside said the brand opted to include “instantly recognizable [properties] that had their own devoted fandoms,” as well as characters that resonate across different fan bases. That’s why you see characters and/or means of transport from Star Trek and Star Wars, as well as Flash Gordon, Buzz Lightyear, the pug from Men in Black, martians from Mars Attacks and Bill from the 1989 movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (and the upcoming film Bill and Ted Face the Music).
“There is no better way to help us tell our story than by using some of the best storytellers out there,” Whiteside added.
Actor Alex Winter, who plays the Bill to Keanu Reeves’ Ted in the three-movie series, said they tried to figure out a way to include a scene in the upcoming movie in which the Bill and Ted of 2020 interact with the Bill and Ted of 1989, but “thematically we couldn’t figure out a way to make it work.”
Instead, Walmart’s Super Bowl ad came along with an opportunity to do it in a moment that marks Winter’s Super Bowl debut as well.
John Hegeman, president of Orion Pictures, which produced the Bill and Ted movies, said the franchise felt like a good fit for one of Walmart’s “Famous” ads.
“There’s Walmart, which is a universal brand and sort of talks to the everyday person and has a huge footprint and a broad audience,” he said. “[Bill and Ted] represent the everyday man and also have a broad appeal, so it felt like the perfect match.”
The opportunity also helps reintroduce Bill and Ted to millions of viewers leading up to the release of Bill and Ted Face the Music on August 21.
“Bill and Ted has its own funny place in the lexicon of sci-fi. I think they thought it was a fun way to play on the characters and play on time travel and put two characters from different times in,” Winter said. “Bill is an all-American guy. He’s someone who is from the Valley and he’s kind of a representative of a kind of positive side of the American attitude.”
As for why the characters resonate after all these years, Hegeman said it’s that Bill and Ted mindset.
“These guys are representative of this attitude that is right now much needed, which is to be excellent to each other,” he added. “They’re not rocket scientists. They’re just two good guys who want to make people feel good.”