Target's red bull's eye is looking for a red-carpet welcome to Canada.
After months of building anticipation for its entry into this market, the retailer will be unveiling its first Canadian ad campaign during the Oscar broadcast this Sunday. The commercial will air twice during the breaks in Hollywood's yearly frenzy of self-love. (In Quebec it will air on TVA program La Voix.) But while it represents the beginning of a major new advertising presence in this country, and the company's official introduction to Canadian shoppers, the ad never once shows a Target store, nor a single product.
Instead, the new commercial features the Target mascot, the painted lady bull terrier Bullseye, sitting in a motorcycle sidecar touring Canada. A red-lipped model and her little dog too catch glimpses of St. John's, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
The goal of the ad, which is dotted with items in the signature Target red and white, is to build the brand but also to send a message that the company has spent the past year learning about this market – with regional specificity employed to work for Canadian acceptance. Nods include a shot alluding to the ritualized July 1 moving day in Quebec, and a picturesque lighthouse that the director trekked four hours north of St. John's to capture, because of its red and white stripes.
"We spent 2012 trying to get to know Canadians," said Livia Zufferli, director of marketing at Target Canada. "It takes it one step further … We're really excited about becoming part of Canadian neighbourhoods."
The core strategy for 2013, she said, will be to "tell the Target brand story."
This image-heavy brand building, which does not focus on showing products, is tried and true in the marketing strategy for Target, which it has already employed in the U.S. for more than a decade.
In the late '90s, as the retailer was expanding to establish a national presence in the U.S., it bumped up against leading discount retailers Wal-Mart and Kmart, which were heavily price-focused in their advertising, featuring products in their ads and warring over price. Target decided its marketing strategy would have to be to elevate itself out of that scuffle, and attempt to differentiate itself instead on personality.
Its agency at the time created a campaign entirely focused around the image of the bull's eye logo.
In the "Sign of the Times " campaign, the pattern was built into models' clothing, pillows, and even a pretty dessert tray. The work was designed to make Target look less like a discount store and to emphasize the chic side of its cheap chic identity.
Even though Target had no stores in the tri-state area in the early 2000s, it also began advertising in New York, understanding that was where the taste-makers lived. That higher brand presence, and its new stylish design aesthetic, opened the door to the kind of celebrity partnerships on proprietary product lines that Target has become known for – at first with designers such as Isaac Mizrahi and Michael Graves.
The Canadian campaign feeds into that. The bull's eye ad – created by kbs+p Canada, part of the MDC Partners Inc. network that Target is working with here and the lead creative agency for Canada – will begin running regularly in Ontario, where the first stores will begin opening, following Sunday's broadcast. It will follow the waves of openings across the country in coming months. As the brand gains recognition, the flyer will help tell the product and pricing story. The website is also currently running a video that elaborates more specifically on the shopping experience – such as wider aisles, short cashier wait times – and includes plenty of product images.
It will also roll out outdoor ads that focus more narrowly on specific markets with stylized illustrations in the Target red and white.
"I would expect when they go into Canada, they will understand the nuances of that market. They will try and demonstrate that they understand how Canada is different and special. I think they're smart to do that," said an advertising executive who has worked with Target in the past.
Once the introductory ad runs its cycle in March and April, Target will be running ads that are a mix of U.S. work adapted for this market, and specific ads for Canada. One thing consumers can expect is a somewhat cheeky personality, which Target has also become known for elsewhere.
For example, with its former agency Wieden + Kennedy, Target created a series of Christmas commercials starring comedian Maria Bamford as an off-kilter shopper so kooked out over the holidays that she would get along well with the fictional Target cashier played by Kristen Wiig on Saturday Night Live.
This year, Target has spoofed conventions of fashion advertising with a series of spots by MDC agency Mono, featuring models in all white posing in slow motion with grocery products . Each of the spots concludes with "The Everyday collection, by Target," whispered in the style of designer fragrance voice-overs.
The cheeky tone has been used in social media as well. Each campaign here will differ based on the message, Ms. Zufferli said.
Target has cultivated a creative brand identity by giving its agencies more leeway than is the norm in retail, said the ad executive.
"That was part of the brief we would get. There wouldn't really be assignments, aside from, 'What's something incredible we could do?' That's great for agencies … and it's pretty rare."
WILL YOU BE MY NEIGHBOUR?
The debut of Target Canada's first TV ad on Sunday marks another first: the commercial use of the theme song to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
In English Canada, the spots feature a cover of the famous song by the band Dragonette. The tune, made popular in the children's show hosted by Fred Rogers, had never been licensed for that purpose before and required some negotiating on the part of Target's team. (In Quebec, the company commissioned the band Alfa Rococo to write a song specifically for the spot. The chorus translates as, "Will you come with me?")
"Normally they would not entertain this," said director of marketing Livia Zufferli. In addition to paying a licensing fee, the company appealed to the caretakers of Mister Rogers' legacy by referring to their philanthropic work in communities, she said.
"When we were first approached by Target, we immediately felt very comfortable with the respect they had for Fred and his legacy. That is paramount to us," said William Isler, president of Fred Rogers Co.
For Target, Mister Rogers was perfect to communicate a message of neighbourliness to their newest market. It didn't hurt that Mister Rogers has a Canadian connection: Before the neighbourhood was developed for PBS, his first show Misterogers aired on CBC beginning in 1963. He took some of the Canadian-designed sets such as the trolley car with him when he developed his show for PBS in 1968.