Oscars: Walmart Enlists Antoine Fuqua, Seth Rogen for New Ads Under Academy Partnership Deal

Fuqua tells THR the new advertiser emphasized "no restrictions" for the original narratives they are tasked with producing for the 60-second spots.
Marc Forster, Antoine Fuqua, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

There will be a new advertiser during ABC's Academy Awards telecast on Feb. 26, one that many Americans will recognize from the company's well-known slogan: "Save Money. Live Better." But in an attempt to stand out in Hollywood, Walmart has hired filmmakers Antoine Fuqua, Marc Forster, and producing partners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg to each create a "short film" that will air as a 60-second TV spot during the Oscars.

Each has been tasked with producing an original narrative that pulls a story from the same origin: a Walmart receipt that has six items on it — bananas, paper towels, batteries, a scooter, wrapping paper and a video baby monitor. The theme is "every receipt tells a great story," and the initiative is a new one for Walmart as it marks the first time the retailer has created a campaign to air during the Oscars.

Walmart chief marketing officer Tony Rogers tells The Hollywood Reporter that this campaign marks the first phase of a multiyear partnership with the Academy. Under the sponsorship deal, Walmart has also pledged its support to "the art of storytelling in film" through a $250,000 donation to the Academy Grants Program for FilmCraft, an educational program that identifies and empowers future filmmakers from nontraditional backgrounds. "Being a part of the Academy Awards is a great way to connect with our customers in a fresh new way," says Rogers. "As the world's largest brand, and a company that sells just about everything, we plan to be more involved, more engrained in the cultural moments that our customers care about, starting with the Oscars."

For the Oscar night reveal — a project known as "The Receipt" — Walmart senior vp corporate marketing Kirsten Evans said they picked the four filmmakers "because they have unique perspectives that would result in really interesting and diverse storytelling." She added that the six items were selected to represent the variety of purchases a typical Walmart customer makes while visiting a store. "And we trusted that our wide assortment would give the filmmakers a vast range of possibilities to find unique stories," Evans continued. "We worked as a team to determine this 'random' assortment."

Fuqua tells The Hollywood Reporter that his idea came to him right away during an initial phone call with Walmart execs. Aside from avoiding the obvious — violent and sexually charged themes — the filmmaker adds that there were "no restrictions" placed on what type of story he could produce. "They were completely open and supportive," says Fuqua, who directed Training Day, which won Denzel Washington an Oscar for best actor. "It's kind of hard to say no when anybody says, 'Do whatever you want.' Why not?"

What Fuqua did was shoot a story about a young boy laced with themes that he says play to what Oscar night is all about. "Inspiration, imagination, communication and wonderment," he explains. "The concept, really, for me was keeping imagination and wonderment alive — the key to storytelling."

Speaking of inspiration, Rogers teased that this outing may serve as the foundation for future Walmart marketing efforts. "Walmart receipts are inspirational because when you think about it, every receipt tells a really interesting story," he explained. "Who are these people? Why did they buy these items? What became of the items? This campaign is not only a great fit for an Oscars audience but one we hope we can build on in the future."

And while ratings for the most recent Oscar telecast — the 2016 show hosted by Chris Rock — were among the lowest in Academy history with only 34.3 million viewers, Fuqua knows that a lot of eyeballs will catch the campaign.  "I always put pressure on myself [to deliver]," he says. "But you want it to be strong. … And you can't forget what it's all about — imagination, storytelling and inspiration."

For those who miss the clips on Oscar night, the short films from Fuqua, Forster, and Rogen and Goldberg will be posted on Walmart's YouTube channel as well as on the company's website here "for an extended period of time," Evans confirmed.

A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.