Walmart’s Super Bowl Debut Touts Out-of-This-World Convenience

Flash Gordon, Buzz Lightyear and more are fans of curbside pickup

Galactic characters play a role in the Big Game ad for the big box retailer.
Galactic characters play a role in the Big Game ad for the big box retailer. Walmart
Headshot of Lisa Lacy

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.

The talking dog from Men in Black is one of the many stars in Walmart's Super Bowl spot.

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.”

Mike Ilacqua, brand director of U.S. marketing at the Lego Group, said Lego was also familiar with the 2019 ad and was flattered when Walmart reached out about the opportunity to star in what also marks Lego’s first Super Bowl appearance.

“We saw it as a super-fun way to bring the brand to life,” Ilacqua added. “It combines the key ingredients Lego is known for—nostalgia, fun and creativity—and when we were pitched the spot, we were confident our brand could be brought to life in way that’s authentic and meet the expectations of our fan base.”

While he said Lego’s social listening team will be “having fun with Walmart and their social presence” on Super Bowl Sunday, it is not clear if Lego, like the Bill and Ted team, is gearing up for a movie release as Ilacqua had no comment on the possibility of a Lego Movie 3.

In addition to the Super Bowl ad, Whiteside said “a special message to our visitors” will play after the commercial airs, but she did not elaborate.

After the game, Walmart will post an extended two-minute version on YouTube and its social channels. It will also use a series of 15-second ads on social.

“We now feel we’re at a point where enough of the population can get [curbside pickup], we want to expose the service and how broad it is to as many people as possible,” Whiteside said.

The retailer is indeed keen to highlight its pickup services, which are now available at 3,100 of its 4,700 U.S. locations. She also noted the growing number of items available for pickup, which is why the ad features a Roomba and a blender among the items brought curbside.

“We think it’s a fun way of helping our customers understand pickup from Walmart is more than just groceries,” Whiteside added. “With pickup, you can get you everything you need for your journey in this galaxy.”

Walmart worked with Publicis Groupe/Dept W on the ad.

“We hope it’s a moment of fun,” Whiteside said. “It’s a bit of something lighthearted to help reinforce [the] breadth and depth [of the platform].”

@lisalacy Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.