Wal-Mart reviews its ad account

Wal-Mart Stores said it is placing its $578 million advertising account in review, for the first time in more than 30 years.

The announcement came after months of significant changes to the retailer’s longtime marketing approaches, as well some personnel changes, as it attempts to broaden its appeal to upscale shoppers.

The review puts a spotlight on the two agencies on which Wal-Mart has relied for many years, Bernstein-Rein Advertising in Kansas City, Mo., and GSD&M in Austin, Tex., owned by the Omnicom Group, according to published reports. Both agencies said that they would take part in the review.

Wal-Mart is hoping new ad campaigns will help the retailer reach higher-income customers who will stay in the stores to buy more than just household staples. Wal-Mart is also pushing into urban markets and wants to attract sophisticated city shoppers.

Wal-Mart has introduced more stylish merchandise under brand names like Exsto and Metro 7, added more expensive TV sets to the consumer electronics departments, and spruced up store interiors.

Wal-Mart’s chief marketing officer, John Fleming, has been searching for a distinct, unified voice for the company’s advertising since he was promoted to his post in March 2005 after leading the Wal-Mart online division. Fleming was hired from Target Corp., Wal-Mart’s chief rival.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based company has already downgraded the smiley-faced character that has symbolized Wal-Mart’s commitment to low prices from its mainstream ads.

The review will be led by Gail Lavielle, Wal-Mart spokeswoman and by Julie Roehm, a former senior marketing executive at the Chrysler Group unit of DaimlerChrysler, who was hired in January. Roehm joined in the new post of senior vice president for marketing communications at the Wal-Mart Stores USA division.

Although Wal-Mart remains the nation’s largest retailer, revenue at individual Target stores has been more robust than at Wal-Mart, which has generally relied on new stores for growth.