NEW YORK — Big-box retail rivals Walmart and Target presented for the first time at the IAB's Digital Content NewFronts this week, and their shows, held on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, demonstrated how the two companies continue to pursue drastically different approaches to diversifying and marketing their business. In this case, both are ramping up their media strategies to try and help brands engage with consumers who are cutting the cord and increasingly favoring connected channels, with a trove of first-party data as a central part of the retailers' pitch to attracting ad dollars.
Walmart will leverage that data in tandem with a growing stable of original and library content, along with new products like shoppable in-stream ads, that are all offered through its streaming platform Vudu. New Vudu series and films teased Wednesday, including a remake of "Blues Clues" in partnership with Viacom and a reality series called "Turning Point" hosted by Randy Jackson, will largely be targeted at Middle America versus "Silver Lake and Williamsburg," Julian Franco, head of AVOD at Vudu, said.
"We're going to focus on just the handful of cities in between," Franco jokingly told a packed house at the Altman Building in Manhattan, a swipe at the wealth of programming from other content developers that targets those living on the East Coast and West Coast. "We think that's our sweet spot."
Target, on the other hand, is breaking from its chief competitor in not pursuing original content but instead expanding its three-year-old in-house Target Media Network, which has been rebranded to Roundel. Reflecting the name change, that expansion features deeper ad integrations, not just on Target.com, but also other platforms like Pinterest — a frequent partner of the brand — PopSugar and NBCUniversal. Roundel, a word for bullseye, Target's signature icon, will also be open to brands that don't sell their products in Target stores, another tweak from how the retailer has handled its media business in the past.
"Roundel is a fresh identity to take our media business to the next level because we're not just operating a retail media network," Kristi Argyilan, president of Roundel, said introducing the refreshed platform.
The execution of Walmart and Targets' NewFronts were also emblematic of how different each company's brand positioning is as both look to cater to an increased demand for smart, agile digital media partners. Walmart's Vudu presentation touted content and product innovations, with executives explaining their appeal on a stage in front of a seated audience — pretty much the standard format for the NewFronts, though the pitch featured far fewer celebrity appearances than, say, Hulu's the day prior.
"Walmart's data and scale make us the sleeping giant of the entertainment space," Jeremy Verba, VP and GM of Vudu, said at the start of the event, helping to encapsulate the company's underdog qualities at the NewFronts despite its top stature in the retail category.
Target's spiel, geographically removed from the other NewFronts with a location on the far West Side of Manhattan, had a much more open forum.
"This is a different kind of NewFront presentation," Argyilan, perched atop a round stage at the center of the open Metropolitan West venue, said to kick off the show.
"Our goal today is simple," Argyilan added later. "We want to give you something you can think about and be inspired by — something you can take back to your brands."
There was no linear structure to Target's Roundel showcase, which wasn't really a presentation at all but instead broke out into four conceptual mini-forums spread around the space, with individual speakers sometimes difficult to hear amid the general din of the crowded venue. Those speakers included NPR host Shankar Vedantam, "poet of code" and computer scientist Joy Buolamwini and Paola Antonelli, MOMA's senior curator of architecture and design — thought leaders who helped to illustrate some of the audiences Target is focused on courting, namely a millennial-oriented and progressive-leaning set.
"The average Target guest is younger and more connected — much more so than the typical consumer who shops our competitors," Argyilan said during her opening remarks.
What's the same
But the Middle America versus more tech-savvy, urban consumer split has been a frequent narrative that's emerged between Walmart and Target. Despite these differences, there were some shared themes at the NewFronts shows as well.
Walmart and Target both made veiled swipes at the major digital platforms, propping up their systems as secure, brand-safe alternatives to sites that have repeatedly run into transparency headaches. Argyilan called out Target's commitment to "data privacy and maintaining a brand-positive environment"; Walmart shared similar rhetoric.
"As a modern media platform, there are no issues with frequency capping, transparency or any of the other challenges posed by platforms that are not up to speed with the expectations of the new media supply chain," Ben Simon, Vudu's head of video ad sales, said.
Walmart and Target also centered many of their discussions around reaching families. At one of the breakout sessions on Thursday, Target's Chief Creative Officer Todd Waterbury detailed how the brand has tried to leverage emotional triggers to inform its targeting of new parents, who frequently make trips to the retailer. The company gave away onesies for babies that parents would then post a picture of their newborns wearing on social media, extending the brand presence beyond in-store transactions.
"When we influence emotions, we also influence decisions," Waterbury said.
Walmart's content plans for Vudu were similarly informed by data around four key areas: early childhood through preschool, kids and family, content for co-viewing and parents programming. The idea is that the retailer will be able to translate its success as a seller of media like DVDs and hardware like TVs into a more continuous service in the home.
"It's about making Vudu part of the daily routine for Walmart families," Franco said.