Can the Man of Steel Save Walmart?

Time Warner

Maybe the "S" on Superman's chest stands for savings.

This week's theatrical debut of "Man of Steel" promises to be a big deal for Time Warner (TWX), the media giant that owns DC Comics and is putting out the movie. However, there's another company also hoping the superhero flick will be a smash.

Walmart (WMT), the world's largest retailer, is grabbing on to Superman's cape-tails in a novel promotion that it hopes will lure young movie fans into its stores.

You see, Walmart is the exclusive seller of movie tickets for advance "Man of Steel" screenings at 2,379 theaters. These specail early shows will take place on Thursday night. The movie then kicks off its cinematic run with midnight showings on Friday morning.

It was certainly an usual -- if not outright risky -- choice to entrust a discount department store chain with exclusive rights to sell tickets for more than 2,000 screenings. But Walmart needed to do something to get shoppers back into its its 3,700 stores.

Searching for Superpowers

Walmart has historically thrived in good and bad markets. It's just natural that country's top discounter draws traffic from folks with money to spend when the economy's expanding, and woos shoppers who want to stretch the value of their money when the economy's contracting.

However, the juggernaut that Sam Walton built is starting to look pretty vulnerable these days. Walmart posted a decline in comparable-store sales in its latest quarter, and that wasn't the first time the chain had failed to top the prior quarter's sales at the store level. It only comes as a shock to those who have painted a mental picture of the department store chain operator as being invulnerable.

It turns out that Walmart is mortal. And it's showing it.

Sponsored Links

Most recently the company has been fighting back with a new ad series -- detailing "The Real Walmart" -- that rolled out last month, starring employees and suppliers singing the retailer's praises. This marketing campaign wouldn't be necessary if the discounter wasn't a popular target for union-backed attacks on its relatively stingy employee benefits. Walmart has also come under fire for some allegedly iffy practices overseas -- among them, bribery.

In the end -- despite the seemingly unbeatable prices it manages to offer thanks to its low markups, heavy turnover, and economies of scale -- Walmart has failed to woo young shoppers.

This week's "Man of Steel" promotion hopes to start reversing that.

Youth is Walmart's Kryptonite

Walmart has an unfortunate history of miscues in targeting young shoppers. Unlike smaller rival Target (TGT) with its "cheap chic" panache, Walmart is merely "cheap cheap" in the eyes of teens and young adults.

Walmart hasn't helped make its own luck.

There was the short-lived School Your Way shopping hub it rolled out in 2006. Walmart launched the social networking site during the back-to-school season that summer, hoping to get high school students to begin sharing the things that they wanted to buy at Walmart. It failed, and Walmart shuttered the site a few weeks later.

Around that same time, Walmart was called out in regards to a pair of bloggers who were traveling around the country visiting Walmarts and chronicling their parking lot adventures. Press quickly turned negative when it was revealed that the bloggers were being compensated for their efforts.

Walmart just hasn't really connected with youthful shoppers, and that may explain why it closed down its MP3 store two years ago at a time when music downloading was as popular as ever.

Enter Superman.

It will be largely a teen and young adult audience that wants first dibs on catching "Man of Steel" on Thursday. If they have to go through Walmart for their tickets, maybe they'll realize that the stores aren't so bad after all.

Most people know the retailer well. Walmart claims that 60 percent of the country shops at its stores at least once a month. The hope is that wooing a fashion-forward audience by pitching tickets to a hot premiere will make it easier to reach out to the other 40 percent.

One Last Shot at Slaying the Villain

Walmart is hoping that the ticket purchases will lead to repeat visits. Ticket buyers will receive codes to preorder the Blu-ray, DVD, or digital download through Walmart when the movie hits the home retail market in a few months. Perhaps more importantly, these Walmart-specific releases will have exclusive additional content.

Walmart's trying. There is no shortage of critics of the company, but if this movie's debut is as big as Walmart and Time Warner hope it will be, Walmart will be the one looking to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.