There I was in my local Target on a Sunday afternoon, enjoying a browse sans husband and baby, when I overheard the following:

Customer: “Do you have any of the Lilly Pulitzer stuff left?”

Store clerk: “It sold out in like 10 minutes”

I’m not very familiar with Lilly Pulitzer, in fact my introduction to the brand was via Target’s beautiful, colorful, fun, happy ad campaign that made me want to pirouette around the room. Despite my lack of familiarity, those ads completely worked on me and made me want to own some of the fabulous floral merchandise. Consider this: if they worked on me, imagine the effect it had on those who adore Lilly Pulitzer. I’ve since done my homework and learned that Lilly Pulitzer is rather sought after, but due to its price point, is out of reach for some. On the other hand, we have Target.

Restoring the cache in Tarjay

In recent years, Target’s brand image has taken a bit of a beating, and Target has lost both share and equity. Many industry analysts have spoken about needing to restore the “Tarjay cache” and

Source: Instagram (@gamcgregor)
Source: Instagram (@gamcgregor)

how a collaboration of this magnitude could do so. Through this collaboration, trusty, reliable Target was promising to bring Lilly Pulitzer within reach of many, and while this may have been a brand collaboration for Target, for consumers this was like winning a small lottery with Target dishing out the winning tickets. It is safe to say that Target had a great deal more invested in this collaboration and stood to lose much more than Lilly Pulitzer.

On April 19th some queued outside stores before they opened, while others woke up early to shop online from the comfort of their homes. Alas, not everyone’s story had a happy ending as the collection sold out within minutes. If you weren’t one of the lucky ones, you missed out. The demand from online shoppers was so great that it proceeded to “break the Internet,” or at least Target.com, which had to be taken down within 10 minutes of the collection becoming available. Both in stores and online, excitement soon turned to frustration and disappointment as many consumers were unable to purchase any of the floral wonders. As has become customary in the age of social media, consumers took to Facebook and Twitter to vent their frustration and disappointment, directing this largely at Target.

Was it a success?

Now, some have suggested that this was all part of Target’s grand plan to create buzz, make the brand relevant again, and restore its tarnished brand image. After all, in 2012, when Target collaborated with Missoni, a similar outcome occurred. However, this begs the question: was it a success? Well, it depends on who you’re asking. From a financial perspective, all of the merchandise sold out within minutes so I think it’s fair to say that it was a financial success. From a consumer perspective, the few who were able to fill up their carts and get a solid ROI by selling their investments on eBay would probably agree that it was a success. However, judging by the social media backlash, it seems that far more felt short-changed. Target later admitted that the collaboration was meant to last a few weeks and the fact that it didn’t means that many were let down. Events that led up to their tarnished image such as the outcome of the above-mentioned Missoni collaboration and the more recent data breach, left many consumers feeling disappointed and vulnerable. While the intention of the Lilly Pulitzer collaboration many have been to restore the positive Target brand associations, the fallout may have had the opposite effect, reinforcing the negative instead.

Source: www.phillymag.com
Source: www.phillymag.com

 @Target we’re breaking up

It’s important to remember that brands don’t just talk to consumers; this is a reciprocal relationship and consists of two parties. Like all relationships, consumers’ relationships with brands have their ups and downs, and typically when we are disappointed and let down by the other party, we get angry, argue, make up or walk away. Unlike human relationships, our brand relationships are somewhat one-sided with the brands doing most of the hard work, always striving to be meaningful, relevant, top-of-mind, valuable etc. Consumers, on the other hand reward brands with loyalty, love, recommendations and money. Judging by the outcome of #LillyforTarget, Target and its consumers are in the throes of a rough patch in their relationship. The Lilly Pulitzer collaboration had all the makings of a huge success, with an almost too successful campaign that created immense buzz and was poised to restore some of the “Tarjay cache” image but fell short in the execution and ultimately damaged both brand image and the brand’s relationship with its consumers.

There are some short term solutions that would go a long way to smooth things over with these disgruntled consumers, and would be a first step towards rebuilding the relationship and trying to reinforce some of the positive associations. Firstly, Target really should consider bringing Lilly Pulitzer back for a short time. Judging by the first go-round, it will most likely sell out as fast, but more than that, consumers will know that they were heard and that Target is trying to do something to remedy their concerns.

Brand building isn’t something that you do once and then forget about. If you do it successfully the first time, you’ll have a committed base of consumers who love your brand and play a big role in its success and, knowingly or unknowingly, invest part of themselves into that brand and their relationship with it. The downside is that disappointing them has great consequences, but the upside is that they will forgive your mistakes. If there is a lesson for Target to learn, it is not to ignore the impact of brand image on brand relationships. While the Lilly Pulitzer collaboration may have helped to restore a tarnished brand image, what ensued certainly damaged the relationships that many consumers have with Target. True success is synchronizing the two, and ultimately building a stronger image and stronger relationships.

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