On Target

A look at the buzz the retailer has built so far, as it prepares to open its doors in Canada.

At 5570 Explorer Drive in Mississauga, tucked behind PepsiCo’s head office sits Target’s brand new headquarters. Its iconic red bull’s eye is the first thing you see in the lobby, with splashes of red adorning the walls and carpets. On the fourth floor, employees can visit the “merch store,” and buy everything from different sized Bullseye mascots to Target t-shirts. Sadly, the store is currently sold out of Target Scrabble, says Lisa Gibson, public relations for Target. But who would have time to play Scrabble? Gibson says in the ramp-up to the March grand opening, everyone is practically living on coffee and vitamins.

“I’m not even doing the vitamins – I should be though,” says Target’s director of marketing Livia Zufferli.

It’s been a busy nine months for Zufferli who was plucked by a recruiter from her position as a partner at Toronto-based agency Capital C to lead Target’s marketing team of 40 for its Canadian launch.

Mere weeks before it opened its doors, Target unveiled its first TV spot and started promoting its Red Card loyalty program digitally.
The retailer kicked off its first “Introduction to Canada” spot at the Academy Awards, extending its “Target loves Canada” message through its launch ads by KBS+P, with Carat handling media and Veritas on PR.

The TV spots star Bullseye, and follow him as he travels across the country and takes in iconic sites while a reworked version (by Canada’s Dragonette) of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood‘s theme song plays. Print and OOH spots will be customized for each province and territory, featuring local landmarks with the tagline “Can’t wait to meet you, neighbour.”

“Our whole approach is ‘we are so excited to come to Canada,’” says Zufferli. “With all our experiences throughout [2012], like the Holiday Road Trip or Bullseye Beach, it’s about [promoting that] we’re excited to be in all pockets of Canadian communities, to get to know our future guest. We’re taking that same sentiment to continue the storyline for our broadcast spot.”

The Oscars were a good match for the brand, she says, adding that the audience aligned with its key demographic, and that while the actual show can be counted on to pull in a big audience, the dialogue that extended beyond the traditional broadcast made sense to tap into as well – especially considering Target’s robust social media presence. It has more than 805,000 Facebook fans – surpassing Canada’s existing big box retailers, such as Walmart with 589,000 fans or Canadian Tire with 737,000 fans – and 37,000 Twitter followers at press time.

Though the Oscars was the first big paid promotional push from the retailer, it certainly hasn’t been dormant on the engagement front. The retailer first kicked things off with a one-day pop-up shop in Toronto back in February 2012, drawing a crowd of 1,500, and followed that up with sponsored beach days across Canada, a hotel takeover for Toronto’s International Film Festival, and ended the year with a Holiday Road Trip, driving a Target-branded bus across the country. “There’s a strong awareness of Target in Canada,” says Zufferli. “But we wanted folks to tangibly experience the brand and understand what makes Target different, [so] we focused on experiential activations in 2012 because we didn’t have stores to drive folks to.”

Even before the company’s marketing ramp-up, 61% of Canadians were looking forward to shopping its aisles (according to a 2011 study by KubasPrimedia), a number that was even higher among Canadians who had shopped at the store across the border, so it appears that Canadians are excited about Target too.

Nowhere was this excitement more apparent than in its loyalty card distribution among Canadians. Despite not having a physical location, 30,000 Canucks had Target’s Red Card in their wallets as a result of cross-border shopping, before it became available in Canada.

The no-fee Red Card, which gives customers a flat 5% discount on all purchases, will play an increasingly important role in the marketing message as well, as the brand begins to promote it to Canadians.

“We wanted folks on that very first shopping experience to reap the rewards instantly. Enabling people to sign up for the cards online was a great way to get them prepared,” says Zufferli.

The promotion for the card kicked off Jan. 31, with an online stop-motion video that walked people through how to apply for the two types of cards (debit or credit), what it can be used on and where.

Target’s U.S. marketing team with its 50+ year history has a strong “big data” system in place to help implement programs like predictive marketing (even gaining some notoriety when a New York Times article highlighted its ability to predict pregnancies of female customers as early as the first trimester based on shopping habbits), but Zufferli says the infrastructure in Canada isn’t as robust yet. It also hasn’t dipped into the world of e-commerce – an area that’s growing fast in the Canadian marketplace – with no immediate plans to open up an online shop, though she does say it’s part of the “digital road map.”

While the marketing team will need to ensure the initial excitement of having a nearby Target doesn’t wane and that customers are turned into repeat shoppers, its main focus, Zufferli stresses, is ensuring Canadians take that first trip.

“Folks knew we were coming in 2013. [Since] the calendar turned to Jan. 1, there’s been an anxious excitement,” says Zufferli. “I just want to honestly sit in the store when we open and watch people come in. I just want to see how they react, what they think and [see] they are excited.”