Walmart Places a Mega Buy with Yahoo

If you visited the landing page for Yahoo’s Oscars coverage in the last several days, you surely saw them – two large Walmart ads in the top third of the screen, both in non-standard ad positions. And if you’re a reader of Shine, Yahoo’s content hub for women, chances are you spotted one of the reality-flavored video clips about cooking, shopping, and home life that have been created explicitly for the retail giant.

Those tie-ins are part of an ad deal between Walmart and Yahoo is the largest the Bentonville, AR-based company has made to date with a single online publisher, according to Yahoo.

It also represents the most complex blend of placements the Web giant has brought to bear for a single client, Yahoo said. That’s thanks in part to a new sales structure at Yahoo that dedicates sales teams to one of three advertiser types: branded advertisers, performance-based marketers, and local businesses. Previously, its sales teams represented individual products or sold inventory on an account basis.

CEO Carol Bartz is credited with bringing about the new structure, which also included creating a centralized marketing group for Yahoo’s products. The marketing team was previously housed within the company’s sales division.

Yahoo says the changes have made it easier to assemble more intricate combinations of content and ad placements to help large brands create emotional connections with its users, which it says is precisely what Walmart is trying to do with its key demographic of mothers. Neither Walmart nor its agency, Mediavest, would comment for this story.

“Walmart wasn’t the first big idea we’ve pitched somebody, but…it would’ve been much harder to pull out before,” said Mollie Spilman, Yahoo’s SVP of B2B marketing. “The new structure makes it that much easier to…deliver.”

Walmart’s buy includes original branded content, sponsorships associated with key events such as the Oscars, and old-fashioned display advertising.

Three weekly branded programs will appear on Shine. “Make Home a Haven” is meant to “celebrate life at home,” though the first episode – a video peek inside the largest home in L.A. – is more “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” than “The Martha Stewart Show.” Another series, called “Real Life Makeover,” offers grocery shopping tips with prominent Walmart product placement in the form of shopping bags (reusable cloth). Both video clips begin to play immediately after a user’s browser loads a page on which they’re embedded, even when the video content appears outside the viewable screen. Some video ad companies have been criticized for using such tactics, which can artificially inflate view counts.

In another form of branded content, dubbed “What’s for Dinner,” Walmart’s brand is attached to meal planning information, including recipes syndicated from Better Homes and Gardens. Yahoo says this content is the most popular of the site’s features.

These efforts, combined with the display ad buy, will help Walmart reach roughly 23 million moms on Yahoo an average of 5.6 times each, according to Yahoo. Reach will also be achieved through the syndication of content across the Yahoo distribution network. Additionally, Walmart will leverage Yahoo’s Smart Ads technology for customized display ads.

How will Walmart measure the campaign? Spilman said Yahoo will provide a combination of traditional metrics – such as reach and frequency and message recall – and unspecified campaign insights.

“Success will also be scored on insights we deliver,” she said. “You can’t say we have to deliver three insights or four or five. It’s qualitative.”

Additionally, Walmart looked to Yahoo for clues about how women – and mom’s in particular – behave on Yahoo. Walmart’s CMO and other marketing staff visited the Web company’s Sunnyvale campus, “to be enlightened about what moms are doing online,” said Spilman.

Yahoo’s focus on insights is part of the “science, art, and scale” message execs have been driving home – arguing that what sets the company’s sales organization apart is the combination of those factors, not reach, creative integration, or targeting alone. Yahoo’s next move, from the standpoint of brand ad sales, is to execute similar programs outside the U.S.

“There’s now a movement to bring global programs to market,” Spilman said. “We need to be able to not only execute a deal like Walmart in U.S. but also globally.”

Follow Zachary Rodgers on Twitter at @zachrodgers.

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