Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Viral Target - How Amy Jussel's story has morphed from an "offensive ads" story to a "we hate bloggers" story

There's been talk about how to make a message go viral. Usually a corporation DESIRES that a particular message go viral. Unfortunately, there are also messages that the company probably DOESN'T want to go viral, Ford and the Mustang group being a recent example. [UPDATE 17 JANUARY - THE PREVIOUS SENTENCE IS OUTDATED. THE BLACK MUSTANG CLUB IS NOW PLANNING ON PRINTING THEIR CALENDAR, WITH THE APPROVAL OF FORD. PLEASE SEE THIS POST FOR MORE DETAILS.]

Well, here comes another one, courtesy Amy Jussel in her blog "Shaping Youth":

This Target ad is senselessly subversive on so many levels that it begs pointing out this article in the U.K. Telegraph headlined, Girls Being Brainwashed to Be Promiscuous featuring Carol Platt Liebau’s new book about how our sex-obsessed culture damages girls.

This ad may not be QUITE as blatant as some of the other spread-eagle ambient billboards we’ve featured or as viral as the onslaught of Axe videos making the rounds, but it’s subliminal to the point of guffaw.

So Amy decided to contact Target about the ad in question. The response that she obtained was interesting, to say the least:

“Good Morning Amy,

Thank you for contacting Target; unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with non-traditional media outlets. This practice is in place to allow us to focus on publications that reach our core guest.

Once again thank you for your interest, and have a nice day.”

You can imagine Amy's reaction. Here's part of it:

My, my…how terribly, terribly naive from a corporate marketing standpoint.

Truth is, I could ‘bring ‘em to their knees’ with a phone call to all of my “mainstream” press contacts…but this was a simple request from a blogger/parent/fledgling nonprofit concerned about needless objectification fergawdsakes.

And frankly, their arrogance and naivete is REALLY making me consider this ‘dismissal of citizen journalism’…

Now bear in mind that Target's response went to a blogger.

A blogger who likes to write.

A blogger who is read by other bloggers.

Who like to write.

You see where this is going.

Let's start with Parents for Ethical Marketing:

Would Target have responded if the “non-traditional media outlet” was something closer to home? The Twin Cities Daily Planet? Minnesota Monitor? The Blotter?

And does Target really think that their “core guests” don’t read blogs? A quick Google blog search of the words “went to Target” came up with almost 120,000 hits. I guess that’s blog writers.

At least she received a response. I sent an email (a version of this blog post) to Target Corporate via their online form (there wasn’t an option for “Report Offensive Advertising Images”). I let them know where they could find the complete blog post.

I got nothing.

Eventually, by the time that this made Julia Roy's blog, the initial issue about the offensiveness of the ad wasn't even being discussed in any detail. Instead, the issue had morphed into Target's treatment of non-traditional media.

How has this changed my opinion of Target? If Target doesn't care about the everyday blogger and their experiences with their brand... In return, I don't care about them. I will not shop at Target until they recognize our importance as individuals, as influencer's and consumers.

Meanwhile, this has also made Newsbusters (the "exposing and confronting liberal media bias" people).

Target department stores apparently haven't gotten the memo that dissing the Internet and bloggers can be a dangerous game for a retailer these days....

Does Target not "get" that blogs and the Internet ARE the people that they want to reach to bring into their stores? Is Target completely unaware of the power of the Internet? Did Target not notice that Dan Rather, for instance, was laid low by the power of the Internet?

Hey, what can I say? It's Newsbusters. But the lesson is apt.

Now try a Google search for target blog. What's the first result? Steve Rubel wrote about this blog a couple of years ago.

“Essentially this would be any company’s dream, right!?” Well, you would think so, but often this isn't the case. The reason is, corporations are afraid of an uncontrolled message. Target may not be in this boat because Scoble enlightened them. One day in the future the companies that don't have fan bloggers may begin to lose share to those who do - if that day isn't here already.

I thought I'd check out Robert Scoble's enlightenment post:

Tonight I understood just why Target is such an interesting chain of stores (second largest in the United States). I had dinner with some of the PR and marketing folks tonight. They were interesting. Personable. Friendly. Fun to be around. Authoritative. Inquisitive. Trend setting. Creative. Attractive. Warm. All attributes that their stores have....

I told them about how smart blog readers are, especially when you have hundreds or thousands of readers. I told them how they keep me honest and how they "fact check my behind."

Well, if some people in Target were enlightened, it sounds like others weren't. Or perhaps the englightenment has gone out over the last couple of years.

So, are there large retailers who DO encourage fan blogs, and blog interaction in general? And should Target know about it?


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Belinda said...

GREAT job distilling all the noise in a concise manner. Linking to your post now, in one of mine...

Ontario Emperor said...

What? I really was succinct for once? This must be one of the signs of the apocalpyse.

People familiar with the Ford thingie will understand my next question. Where's Target's "Whitney" to straighten this one out?

Shaping Youth said...

You were succinct, and THANK you for shining the spotlight on one of the most under-reported issues...just left a note for you back on our blog.

I keep trying to deflect/ignore folks focusing on the 'snowangle vs. spreadeagle' debate as that's senselessly superfluous and derails the much bigger dialog.

Objectification universally ('et tu, Tarjay, et tu?') and corporations fouling up their customer service responses by dissing Web 2.0 writers.

Thanks for the concise analysis on this silly viral escalation and how they could've avoided same!

Ontario Emperor said...

As an update, I should note something that I said in response to a Sarah Wurrey post entitled "Settle Down, Blogosphere:

Although I've posted about this, again echoing some of the comments from the blogosphere, it's interesting to note that in my post in question, I alluded to the whole Ford - Mustang thingie.

Subsequently I had to update and correct my Ford - Mustang information.

When all is said and done, I may end up having to update my Target information on their policy toward bloggers. Hopefully....

Ontario Emperor said...

See Robert Scoble's latest post on Target and my question about his 2005 post. I don't know if Robert is still checking comments on this post, but we'll see. I'm familiar enough with large organizations to know that a view in one part of the organization may not necessarily be reflected in another, but I'm curious if he has any perspective on why the message didn't permeate the organization.

Ontario Emperor said...

For the record, Scoble responded less than two hours later. His response:

they (Target) are run by very traditional PR folks: command and control.

At some point I may explore this further, but not in relation to Target.

Anonymous said...

yoo... funny thread