Off Target?

What happens if an ad campaign misses the mark?

If you’re like me and watch more TV than you should, you’ve probably seen the unusual new Target commercials with the hot air balloon. These “Color Changes Everything” spots feature a troupe of lively individuals landing in a hot air balloon (which, when seen from above, sports a gigantic version of the distinctive Target bullseye logo) and cavorting through an urban setting in acrobatic fashion, magically transforming the clothing, accessories and household goods of the people they encounter into stuff that is brighter, hipper and generally cooler and more fun. One of the most striking things about the ad is the fact that the entire sequence is set to the soundtrack of a jaunty song, with lyrics entirely in French!

I have to admit, this ad missed the mark a little bit with me — mainly because it left me more puzzled than excited — and made me wonder if it missed the mark with others as well. I’m guessing the point of it was to show that the range of products at Target has the potential to make bland things more interesting and that the things you buy at Target can make your world a little brighter. The energy, activity and bright colors seem clearly aimed at reinforcing the notion that hip and chic are key elements of the Target brand. But, can they afford for people to guess what their message is?

The choice of music — the French children’s song, Alouette — is also questionable. Because I was curious and I don’t speak French, I looked up the lyrics and found out the song is about plucking a lark — nothing to do with shopping. I suppose on one level, the upbeat melody of the song fit the playful and fast-paced theme of the commercial. Or, perhaps, it was a not-so-subtle wink at their perceived status as the most stylish and sophisticated of the big discount retailers. I know many of their “cult followers” who refer to them as the very French-sounding “Tar-zhay.” Perhaps the European flair to this commercial was intended to reinforce that fanciful image.

But did it work? I’m not sure. The song — and the ad as a whole — is obviously an unusual choice, and I worry that it might backfire for them. Any time you do something so esoteric and unusual, you run a risk. While I commend Target for being bold with their advertising decisions, I think it’s possible they’ve gotten a little too complicated and obtuse with this spot. Right now, I don’t think retailers can afford to be risky and edgy with their commercial messaging. I think, as we become a more digital society, consumers’ attention spans will become shorter and shorter. If you get too creative and less direct, I’m not sure you’ll see the results. If their goal was to entertain existing customers who are already committed to shopping at Target, then perhaps it works. But, if they’re trying to gain new customers, pulling from those other less stylish discounters, then I think they failed. It’s not likely to resonate with most discount shoppers.

In contrast, we know J.C. Penney is trying to appeal to shoppers who either haven’t shopped there in awhile or have never shopped there. Their ads, featuring Ellen DeGeneres, are clear evidence that you can be funny and quirky while still keeping things simple and delivering the brand messaging quickly and succinctly to a specific audience. I think it’s fair to ask, will the new Target commercials actually drive more traffic to the store, in turn, driving up sales? Will it bring in new customers who don’t normally shop there? Or will it just be an eccentric oddity that gets dismissed?

And yet, for all of my skepticism, think about this: If the point of this ad was to simply generate buzz and to get people thinking and talking about the Target brand…then, maybe the “Color Changes Everything” spot actually worked. After all, I just wrote an entire column about it!

What do you think? Did this commercial resonate with you? Do you think it was risky? Please make a public comment below or feel free to e-mail me privately at

Click here for past columns by Jeff Green.

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