Walmart is helping parents in a very different back-to-school season

Who: Walmart, with Cossette for creative, Mindshare for media and Untitled Films with director Hubert Davis.

What: A new back to school ad that—like everything else this year—had to be a little different than in the past.

When & Where: The :60 was released last week, and is running in high viewership inventory like Toronto Raptors games. There are also :30, :15 and :6 cut-downs running online and through social.

Why: Walmart’s core brand promise is about helping people save money so they can live better, said vice-president of marketing, Tammy Sadinsky. But the context around saving money and the ways people are rethinking how they can “live better” meant that its back-to-school advertising had to be different.

Cossette and Walmart zeroed in on the fact that with the economy in turmoil, about one-third of Canadian adults are considering upgrading their skills or education. “It’s a time of need to do that,” said Sadinsky. “And we thought not only can we help adults for their children, we can also help adults save money on what they need to get ready for what they need to go back to school, however that is for them.” Best Buy Canada’s back-to-school advertising campaign was built around a similar insight.

How: The anchor spot opens like a typical back-to-school ad—except for the by-now normal appearance of masks in-store—with parents and kids buying supplies and clothes from Walmart.

The ad is soundtracked by the earworm “Makin’ a Move” by Lady Bri, with moms and dads appearing cheerful as they help their kids get ready. About halfway through the ad, it becomes clear the parents are also starting something new. There’s a moment of apprehension on their faces before they move forward into their new life with resolve.

When Cossette first shared the idea, Sadinsky knew instantly it was the right approach for the brand this year. “I thought it felt not only very ownable to Walmart, but like the right place for our brand because we can help,” she said. “It was a really fresh idea, it was a very current idea. And it felt like it had the emotional insightful that we want to have in our creative.”

CD POV: “We wanted to show that honest vulnerability, balanced with the optimism we know everyone tries to uphold when going through something like this,” said Cossette’s executive creative director, Craig McIntosh. “Hubert Davis also played a huge part in striking the right tone. He’s really a master of pulling the right emotion out of actors.

“I think what I’m proudest of is empowering parents to feel optimistic about going back to school and acknowledging that while it’s scary, they’re not alone.”

The music: “There’s an anxiousness about having to start fresh for adults, but also optimism,” said McIntosh. “You want to feel those moments—the butterflies in the belly, then that moment of ‘I’ve got this.’ We chose this track because it communicates that sense of moving along that journey in a vulnerable yet optimistic way.”

Quote: “When I was a kid, my mother went back to school. She had four kids at home, and she went back to school to get her nursing degree. And [the ad concept] struck a personal chord. These are great examples of parents trying to do this, all for the good of their family.” —Walmart marketing VP Tammy Sadinsky.

David Brown