I finally got around to trying heroin last week. Well, not heroin heroin, but the non-narcotic kernel-based equivalent. I’m not one to scold, but really: I ask so little of y’all, yet not a single one of you was considerate enough to tell me about Popcornopolis’ Zebra Popcorn. This one-sided-relationship thing is getting old.
I bought a bag on a whim at Costco and finished half of it before I left the parking lot. I inhaled another eight handfuls when I got home. I asked my wife to hide the remainder, lest that she and the kids weren’t given the chance to experience the enchantment and whimsy of addiction. They ate. They believe.
The problem with this, of course, is that “gourmet” popcorn does not spontaneously rematerialize once you’ve polished off your existing ration. Thus I was remanded to the car, with an unspoken mandate not to return until I was able to procure more Zebra Popcorn.
Costco had already closed for the night, so I ventured out without a destination in mind. A smarter person might’ve first checked Popcornopolis’ online popcorn-finder, which would have told me that I was pretty well screwed (read: no vendors within 100 miles of my zip code… which is inaccurate, given the previous Costco hookup, but whatever). Instead, I hit six stores without happening upon the magic popcorn. I returned home an hour later to find everyone happily gorging on potato chips.
So while I didn’t get the popcorn, I came home with the kissed-cousin of consolation prizes: a column idea. I hadn’t visited a Walmart in some time, partly due to New York City’s efforts to keep them out of town and partly due to the nearby presence of a Target. Still, in my mind Walmart remains the most likely place to have in stock whatever it is I happen to be seeking - designer popcorn, cotton balls, ammo, etc.
Turns out that Walmart is feeling a little differently about itself nowadays. Based on my experience that night, there appears to be a push to upscale the brand a bit. Yes, I was in the heated throes of popcorn lust, but I still noticed a varied brand mix and store layout to match.
I could be way off on this, but that impression was reinforced by the appearance of a series of… I guess you’d call them brand films? The retail colossus gave four filmmakers (good ones, too - Antoine Fuqua, Marc Foster and the Walmart-values-embodying team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg) a receipt with six items on it and said, basically, “Off you go.” The items: bananas, batteries, a baby video monitor, wrapping paper, paper towels and a scooter.
By Walmart standards, the films are almost avant-garde. “Lost & Found” envisions a post-apocalyptic landscape that, nigh-miraculously, retains the communications infrastructure that allows a pair of Mad Max Minis to observe the image of a newborn on the monitor. “Bananas Town” segues into a series of musical numbers imagined by the schoolgirl who happens upon the receipt. “The Gift” starts off with spooky-dooky sci-fi sheen but ends with a mass regurgitation of emoticon pillows (or maybe balloons?) via alien spacecraft.
I was wholly entertained by the films, which pack an awful lot of creativity into a teensy temporal window. Yet I’m left with one question: What’s the point?
It’s been proven over the years that customers will stick with Walmart through just about anything - corporate bullying of its workforce, Black Friday hooliganism, etc. - so long as prices are low and stores are nearby. This effort, then, feels almost like a lark. “Hell, it can’t hurt, and maybe we’ll get a little online cred out of it,” etc.
Creatively, the three “Receipt” films are a hoot. Brand-wise, they’re irrelevant. Still, it’s pretty cool to see Walmart trying.And really, why should Target’s brand minders get to have all the fun? There’s plenty of marketing money to go around. Go, Walmart.