Usually a paragon of sharp branding, Target fails to deliver with its new series of holiday-themed ads. The commercials create faddishly awkward moments and draw thin humor from misunderstandings around the store’s low, low prices, but the tone isn’t Target, the visual aesthetic isn’t Target, and the production value seems uncharacteristically low. The result is a commercial that’s not quite funny, that’s a bit confusing, that’s unrecognizable as a piece of the brand, and frankly, that seems a bit cheap, rushed, and out of place. It’s quality and sophistication, more than just low prices, that differentiates Target from other big-box retailers, making this series of spots a confounding anomaly in which Target foresakes its brand identity to blend in with every other retailer out there, speaking the same dated dime-a-dozen language they all do. It’s generic rather than indelibly Target–perhaps because it fails to make reference to the brand’s core belief in the democratization of design, the hallmark of past campaigns.
I’m not saying that a brand needs to stay in a rut, or that ads have to be matchy-matchy to be part of a campaign. (For the record, I loved their Maria Bamford spots for Black Friday.) It should, however, have a throughline centered around its brand identity and beliefs–so what’s missing to me (besides the iconic visual style) is Target’s fundamental belief that good design is not a luxury of the wealthy, but the right of us all; that good design can and should be affordable and accessible. What makes these otherwise-unremarkable-but-certainly-not-awful commercials so frustrating is that Target is usually spot-on. Indulge me, won’t you, while I take a moment to wax lyrical about some of Target’s (granted, more obvious) branding triumphs.
Up until this series of ads, textbook-case Target seemed to nail it–this belief in the accessibility of good design was (in many cases still is) made manifest in its behaviors across the board: its clean, bold, and stylized logo-centric ads recalled Warhol by viewing everyday consumer goods as design objects and mining the mundane for beauty; its aesthetically-astute product collections, including Michael Graves kitchenware and the Go International fashion line (spotlighting the designs of such top names as Zac Posen and Rodarte), leverage the talents of renowned designers, artists, and architects while keeping pricing within reach; it sponsors free admission to art museums (that home of institutionalized design) such as LACMA and MoMA, among myriad other on-going and single-serve expressions of their commitment to bringing the once-exclusive to the masses. It is these behaviors that have endeared the brand to audiences and have put Target in the unique position of being a sort of a curator of design and culture to the middle class–even sparking (however unintentionally, but nevertheless bravely) challenging discourse around the tricky intersection of commerce and art. This holiday campaign does nothing to strengthen that positioning, and that in itself (leaving any potential brand damage aside completely) is a missed opportunity. I hope that this is a soon-forgotten blip in an otherwise stellar brand run, that it is a brief and quickly corrected misstep rather than a shift in a new and less promising direction for this iconic retail giant.
Take a look at a few of these here–if you want to see more (but why would you, really?) head over to Target’s Youtube Channel.
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