NEW YORK — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Friday that it has picked Interpublic Group of Co.’s Martin Agency, known for its quirky ads for GEICO insurance company and UPS, to help spearhead the discounter’s future image with consumers.
The decision comes after the world’s largest retailer in early December dumped its newly hired Draft FCB, another division of Interpublic Group, two days after the highly publicized firing of a top marketing executive, Julie Roehm along with her subordinate, Sean Womack.
Wal-Mart said Friday that Martin Agency will handle its creative responsibilities, and announced that Publicis Groupe SA’s MediaVest will oversee media buying and planning duties. Wal-Mart’s media and creative business is worth more than $500 million
Martin’ client list includes other big names such as Hanes and Discover Card. MediaVest’s long-standing clients include Coca-Cola Co. and Procter & Gamble Co.
“We’ve assembled a top-tier group of marketing partners that have deep retail experience, recognized creativity and an understanding of our customers,” said John Fleming, chief marketing officer at Wal-Mart, in a statement.
In an interview, John B. Adams, chairman and CEO of Martin Agency, based in Richmond, Va., said the agency’s “strong middle-American perspective” and its expertise in “provocative ads” make for a good combination for Wal-Mart. Its GEICO ads featured cavemen and testimonials from personalities like Little Richard.
“It is a useful perspective in doing work for Wal-Mart,” Adams said.
Adams added that the team will be meeting Wal-Mart’s marketing officials next week to “get a sense of their priorities.” He said he didn’t know at this time what marketing focus Wal-Mart would pursue.
Wall Street analysts will be closely watching how the agency will help shape Wal-Mart’s future message. Efforts over the past year and a half to improve its image with trendier fashion brands and home fashion accessories have fallen flat. Wal-Mart reported disappointing fall and holiday sales even as the company started to re-emphasize its low prices after months of playing down its discounting strategy.
The firing of Roehm, senior vice president of marketing communications, who was hired in January 2006, only exposed Wal-Mart’s struggle with its identity. Under Roehm, known for her flashy style, Wal-Mart invited bids from a number of ad agencies for ideas on how to better market its new image.
In the end, Wal-Mart severed ties with its two longtime agencies and in October named Draft FCB to handle creative duties and Aegis Group’s Carat to handle media buying. Soon after, Wal-Mart fired the two executives and tossed out the new agencies.
Published reports said that Roehm violated company policy by accepting gifts from potential vendors and maintained a personal relationship with her subordinate. Wal-Mart has declined to give a reason for Roehm’s departure.
At the time, Wal-Mart informed Draft FCB that it was not going to be eligible for the new review. Carat, however, was able to participate.
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