Recently, I saw a Target documentary titled “Behind the Bullseye” a couple of days ago on CNBC and it explained how the brand has become such a power player amidst the ever changing economy. I posted about Target’s Black Friday campaign not too long ago. Watching the brand’s evolution from alternative discounter to national superstore, one has to wonder how it was possible. Target created a PR spin on discounted goods. People who could afford to, were in love with the shopping experience of an upscale department store. From intricate fixtures to elegant displays, it was very much an “in the moment” sort of thing. Think of retail therapy. Target took the approach that people with less money wanted good quality items as well. The trick was to convince people with more money that they weren’t getting an inferior product because they are predisposed to perceived value. I’ve heard a saying that goes like this, “It’s not how much you earn, but how much you save.” Target made it hip to be thrifty. As it gets harder to squeeze a dollar, consumers have lowered their guard against discounters. It’s hard to deprogram the mentality that, “if something costs more it must be worth more.” Right? We live in a consumerist society and given the shaky economy many backs are against the wall.

Target started out as the 1st floor of Dayton's Department Store in Minnesota

What sets Target apart is its numerous partnerships with “designers.” It has a position that makes each physical store an empty vessel. Each designer places his or her mark on the store by filling it up with all sorts of exclusive novelty items. Cynics argue that Walmart, Target, Kmart and the like are flooding the market with cheap crap from southeast Asia. I certainly agree to an extent. However, when seasoned designers take to task the branding of everyday items in each department a new concept emerges. I’ll frame this through my own lens with shoe designer Ronnie Fieg and his branding of Clarks, Sebago, Ralph Lauren, and many other brands.

By reading blogs and social media I’ve become more aware of certain designers. I wanted a new pair of shoes and naturally I researched the brand (Clarks). Then I came to find out that these 2 particular brands (Clarks and Sebago) facilitated independent projects with designers. They made the same shoes officially sanctioned, but with bells and whistles, in special colors, and with different fabrics and materials. That’s cool in itself. Then I find out these special edition shoes are limited in quantity (sometimes extremely limited). I snagged one pair and then missed out on the next so I anticipate the next pair after that. Without even realizing it, I was roped into a relationship not with this designer’s brand, but with his branding. I don’t like everything he does, but he usually delivers. This is just one guy partnered up with just one store (that I know of digitally and physically). Place this relationship in the context of having such a person creating items for every department in a large store. Now, I want you to imagine celebrities doing the very same thing. Is it really at all difficult to understand? I’d thank the stars no ends if I was able to walk into a Target and get the latest Ronnie Fieg boots, but for me it’s not that simple. My Fieg boots might be your toaster, they might be the cup you use to gargle after brushing your teeth, or they may even be the throw rug in your vestibule. The bottom line is that you would be surprised at how influential a designer can be.

Target had legal trouble when it first tried to put this into practice. My above mentioned example is what happens when designers come willingly, but what about when it’s done without their consent? I’ll get more into the double edged sword of perceived value and designer branding shortly. As advertisers, we are privy to symbolic slight of hand, but nonetheless we are consumers first.