Thursday, December 22, 2005

Gather Round - no, wait, we mean Merry Christmas. Really, we do. It's true, we always meant it, we swear!

In a previous life I was a low-level executive for Target Stores. It's an interesting place to work and has a lively, youthful vibe, although at times working at Target HQ felt like the movie "Logan's Run" -- that is, a paradise until you reach the age of 30, at which time you are put to death. Target has experienced tremendous growth in recent years by finding, clever, creative ways of differentiating itself from the evil, hated juggernaut of Bentonville, Arkansas. By doing so, Target has largely managed to avoid being the subject of left-wing documentaries, frustrated labor-union front organizations and other sentinels of good and proper thought. After all, even the most p.c. individual wants to save a few dimes on his garbage bags and light bulbs. By also stocking a few clever knock-off frocks and quasi-IKEA pieces, along with conducting some ostentatious acts of local charity (all performed by red-clad Target employees, endorsed by Amy Grant and Tiger Woods), Target largely had sailed along above the fray, quietly collecting their profits while Wal-Mart struggled through adverse publicity and sluggish growth.

But things have changed lately. Last year Target made an understandable, logical and completely tone-deaf decision when they forced the Salvation Army from their stores. Target's ostensible rationale was that it did not allow anyone to solicit its "guests" (customers) in its stores, so the Salvation Army, which had been placing its kettles and bellringers outside Target locations since the very beginning of the chain in 1962, was asked not to return for the holidays. As you might imagine, the decision generated a fair amount of negative publicity, including some half-hearted calls for customer boycotts from some radio talk show hosts. Target largely weathered this particular controversy, but the adverse press got the attention of the executives. Target this year has staged a low-profile fundraising campaign in conjunction with the Salvation Army, but the bellringers remain off the premises. The Salvation Army then demonstrated its lack of hard feelings by participating in a joint advertising campaign with Wal-Mart, featuring Antonio Banderas. I'm guessing that didn't go over too well up in the executive suites.

This year, a somewhat related controversy arose when some unusually noisy Christians started noticing that the major retailers, Target included, had largely airbrushed all references to Christmas from their marketing campaigns. Target's television campaign featured the slogan "Gather Round," which could conceivably apply to Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus or a previously scheduled meeting of Odd Fellows Local 246. So I was amused when I saw revised versions of television commercials that clearly showed a tacked on "Merry Christmas" message at the end, as the strains of the reworked Earth Wind & Fire song "September" fades out. Glad to see that Michael Francis and the gang in advertising have learned something.

1 comment:

Execu-bot said...

"And though its been said
many times, many ways,
'Gather Round'
Gather round' to you..."