Shaping Youth’s New York Times e-Interview, Verbatim

microphone-color.jpgSince I’m too swamped to post right now, dealing with flamethrowing yahoos missing the point of my original post altogether and now reacting to the New York Times article, I’ll simply post my verbatim comments (sent with a high degree of reticence to the NYT reporter’s request) and deconstruct the nuances when I can breathe a bit. So here ya go: “Just the facts, ma’am…”

NYT: What did you ask, or want, Target to do?

Seeing the AdRants post, I questioned the appropriateness of this ad, and phoned them for some form of context, leaving a message w/all my contact info on their machine.

Since I’m their ‘target market,’ I was seeking an explanation, period. (being in advertising, it was baffling to think this concept cleared multiple layers of approval without seeing the risk of it being misconstrued)

The Target billboard went up in an environment created by many other ads that are MUCH worse. On the one hand, Target is not responsible for “Future Hooters” or “Axe Bomchickawawa role models”—but Target’s marketing department has to know (or be made aware) that whatever they do, say, or display comes into this environment made toxic by the torrent of other messages. So their responsibility is, at least do no harm…the Hippocratic oath if they’re going to purport being a ‘family’ store. While the billboard is not as bad as other ads, is that the standard Target should aim for?

Given their family audience and Disney demographics, could they raise the bar instead of adding to the already overwhelming focus of ads aimed to reach girls by focusing on their sexuality?

The power and impact of the media to trigger, persuade, and alter human beings’ worldviews is profound…And WITH that power comes an inherent responsibility for the messages being put out there. That’s all I’m saying…

We must live with what we create as a society. Targeting crotches with a bullseye is not the message we should be putting out there…it’s really that simple.

At a minimum, I wanted Target to explain their thinking behind that ad, and then if they realized (as I think they should) that it is questionable, replace it with something more positive.

I have no wish to target Target…if you read through our blog, you’ll see I am concerned about far more substantive issues (and far worse ad campaigns).

NYT: What is your reaction to their note in response to your inquiry and to their apparent policy of not working with bloggers?

ANY customer deserves a response to a concern, so I found this to be a short-sighted, ill-conceived judgment call.

I did not approach Target as ‘media’ but as a mom/shopper, heading up a nonprofit blog. I found their dismissal of citizen journalism and Web 2.0 media naive, arrogant, and inappropriate, especially since I was trying to give them the benefit of the doubt, being a loyal customer.

While I understand they don’t have time to respond to every ‘blogger in their jammies with a voice’ Google analytics revealed they had visited my blog, and therefore KNEW that we examine issues from many perspectives, applying critical thinking skills to media with the goal of positive change.

In fact, I assumed (incorrectly) that they’d not only respond, but perhaps think hard about HOW they would respond with circumspect analysis of their corporate policy and voice, to open a conversation about overall responsibility in terms of media messages being put out there.

Asking how that billboard fits as part of an entire corp. ad campaign is a richer question, which is what I was after with the phone call to begin with…

So yes, in short, I was amazed at the lack of insight there, for they’d miss out on an opportunity for dialogue. The lack of a link, an e-mail, or any response other than dissing the inquiry is a customer service issue, on top of the sexualization elements in question.

NYT: Do you shop at Target? Did this experience with their PR people change your opinion of the company?

I not only shop at Target we gave out $5 Target gift cards in lieu of bday ‘goodie bags’ because it’s just down the street and a favorite of tweens!

I do believe corporations can and should learn from their mistakes, and I’d be happy to shop there in the future if they’ve learned from this to be more open and conscious about their advertising messages and use critical thinking skills in terms of what they’re putting out there.

And though I did NOT write, send in a complaint note, or use ANY form of social media advocacy, it has absolutely altered my view of the company forevermore….In fact, I find it odd that both our brands have been hammered out of distortions/misinformation.

It’s been an incredible time sink, and learning experience.

Up Next: Deconstructing media messages, soundbites/skewed framing, brand erosion, larger objectification global dialog, and industry fallout from different points of view in the blogosphere…I’ll be attending this Harvard Business session called YouTube is Forever, on handling situations like this when conversations get hijacked from their original context.

As I wrote to the NYT reporter, Michael Barbano at the onset:

“Objectification is a worthy discussion, but NOT this one ad alone, by ANY stretch of the imagination. The banter on this to date has been misinformed minutiae, like one of those bad games of ‘telephone’ as a kid where the message keeps getting further tweaked out of context to become ‘parenting crazies over-reacting’ in a diluted dialog of “one-ad” focus.”

“The larger issue of normalizing objectification via mass market retail and Web 2.0 being dissed is being skewed into a thumbs up/thumbs down UGC opinion-style vote for ‘snowangel vs. spreadeagle’ which trivializes the entire conversation.”

Personally, I hope we can elevate the dialog to its original objectification context, or discuss new media’s impact on business, and Web 2.0 …Preferably BOTH…as long as we raise the bar on the civility and the facts.

P.S. Special thanks to S.Y. advisor John Kelly for his humor, wisdom and support during this media mania…

Comments

  1. I think it’s shocking that Target dismissed bloggers so outright, but while I’m sure it’s not a popular opinion, I don’t think their ad is offensive in the slightest and sometimes I worry that we’re taking political correctness and “the children” too far.

    This is just my opinion, but I strongly feel that a woman making snow angels is not going to make children get excited about her crotch. Maybe I’m missing the point, but the article kind of made it seem like your issue with the commercial is that her crotch is the center of the bullseye. I’m curious if kids are really watching that commercial, seeing her crotch for that split second and thinking, “Wow, look at that crotch in the middle of the bulleye. I should be promiscuous (or whatever the issue may be) when I grow up!” I don’t understand when snow angels became provocative.

    It’s totally just my opinion and I completely respect your position on it, you’re entitled to feel however you want. :) And I stand behind not marketing crap to kids, I really do.

    But, I’m just providing an alternate opinion that the fact that you can see a bloodied corpse on TV, a live autopsy, people being raped in prime time… but you can’t see a woman making a snow angel because her fully-clothed crotch appears seems skewed.

  2. Hi Joelle, it’s not about ‘the one ad’ which is mild by comparison…check the original link to the ‘big picture’ context in our first piece (not the NYT article) and Bob Herbert’s NYT piece that reinforces the scope of what our original article was about.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/15/opinion/15herbert.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

    p.s. And believe me you ARE the ‘popular opinion!’

    But I strongly believe it’s because the framing got skewed into a ‘one ad’ context…read the entire/original article (not the ‘soundbite/NYT version) and I think you’ll begin to see what the real story is…

  3. I find it interesting that Amy Jussel, who uses her blogging to take her message to the world is a bit put off by the fact that the blogosphere is reacted to her comments along a tangent that she didn’t expect people to focus on. When you put your opinions out there, aren’t you hoping to create dialog? You can’t then demand a certain type of dialog.

    While perhaps some bloggers who picked up on this NY Times article overstated the case (I don’t think Target hates bloggers), it does seem clear to me that the Target spokesperson was revealed a bit of their corporate character — that they think they are somehow above communicating with their customers where many of them express themselves — in blogs.

  4. Amy, as a designer myself, I think that those who say. people are reading too much into the ad are mistaken. Target deserves every bit of criticism it gets whether the juxtaposition of the elements of the ad was an oversight or not. As a family-friendly brand, Target has everything to gain and lose by making sure their advertising doesn’t upset their customers. It’s only through people speaking up that corporations can know that such a brand oversight is not acceptable.

  5. Glenn, like you said, we can’t ‘control’ the blogosphere, but we can certainly ask for the dialog to be RELEVANT to the original post…I LOVE debate, and embrace ALL opposing views (as long as civility is in check) but I was a bit disappointed that the original conversation got diluted into being about ‘one ad’ vs. the much richer context of normalization of objectification.

    As for the tangent about dissing the blogosphere, I think it’s a SOLID tangent…and worthy of LOTS of dialog, because new media/Web 2.0 is here to stay and if you’re branding to a flat, static ‘customer’ then you’re missing the “Age of Conversation”

    So I say bravo to the blogosphere for taking THAT tangent…
    it should stir some solid dialog and corp. change on many levels! (but I do hope they get back to the larger framing of the misogyny one, per NYT Bob Herbert’s article I posted above)

    As for personal blogosphere vitriol/assumptions/attacks and ‘Kathy Sierra’-isms I’ve endured as of late DUE to the impression that this was about ‘one ad’ vs. a larger context, I can only say it is a DILUTION of the dialog…not to mention an unproductive barrier to real solutions.

    Civil dialog? Absolutely…Tangents? You betcha. The more the merrier. Slander/obfuscation/smear campaigns of a person or org? Cowardly.

    Other than that, I’m all ears! :-)

  6. Ah, and to G. Kofi Annan…appreciate your designer eyes on this, thank you for that context.

    Speaking of which…one of the deconstruction elements I’m looking at here is the notion of context the way Bob Herbert mentioned in his op-ed…

    In other words, ANY living thing splayed on a target could be construed as a violent message, a female spreadeagle shifts it into misogyny mode…would it have shifted context if it were a male spread eagle? A child? An animal?

    I liked E.R.’s comment on the Unbound Edition blog…gee, if it’s a snow angel supposedly, why wouldn’t they use the circular icon as a halo, it’s a natural! Seems like a good design reinforcement…and then you could even put snow under her and have it make sense too! He had some great customer service ideas in the comments here:

    http://www.unboundedition.com/content/view/4451/54/

  7. Amy,

    I found all of this very interesting. I write for the Chicago Moms Blog and just posted about this situation.

    http://svmomblog.typepad.com/chicago_moms/2008/01/some-think-were.html

    …in hopes to help raise some awareness of what is being plastered all over billboards and storefront windows for everyone and their brother to see.

  8. Just checked out your Chicago Moms blog…and to clarify, (again) it was NOT EVER about this one (mild by comparison) ad, as you said, “she’s fully clothed, quite fashionably” it was about the ‘family firm’ of Target joining the ambient advertising ranks of ‘the usual suspects’ to flirt on the edge of crass innuendo. (e.g. categories like beer, lingerie, and fashion like Abercrombie, American Apparel, Victoria’s Secret, etc.)

    I (perhaps mistakenly?) chose to let this thing run its course, for fear it would dilute into a wild card/much ado about nothing short-sighted analysis and trivialization of ‘this one ad’ instead of our more profound conversation on toxic pop culture objectification, (toddler tees that say “Hooter Girl in Training” and “Playground Pimp”). But I guess it’s too late…sigh…Now it’s evolved into the ‘dissing bloggers’ response, which is at least a very worthy conversation…

    Sure hope we can open those doors to the LARGE conversation of how we’re “Packaging Girlhood” in a heavily objectified context resulting in studies like the APA’s that reflect the psychological damage to self worth/impact of early sexualization on youth. (THAT is what my original post was about…Ambient advertising and media messages…NOT this “one ad”)

    It’s already off our front page since I chose to ‘move on’ early in the conversation but perhaps I need to repost the original context so that people can SEE the proper framing, not just react to the NYT piece and the various blogosphere distortions.

    We all agree this ad is MILD BY COMPARISON, but it’s nonetheless inappropriate for adding to the cacophony of unnecessary images and noise amidst a very loaded media environment of sexualized cues.

  9. ok so u ppl need to chill one tag commercial is not going to change the world!!! advertising is not that influential..im only blogging cuz im bored in a class but u guys do this all day??? do u sers hav nuffin better to do..poor uptite ppl i feel sorry for..needs booze and a wild nite out if u ask me.

  10. As a Minneapolis based blogger I have often been put off by Target’s policy of not talking to me. However, their attitude of not talking to the media is not limited to bloggers.

    When I was writing a business column for a local Minneapolis paper the folks at Target wouldn’t talk to me then either. The paper was too small for them.

    I hope this negative publicity will get the good folks at Target to understand that there is no room for media snobs in today’s social media world.

    As to the ad itself:Target has very sophisticated marketeers. I can’t believe that no one noticed the crotch and the bull’s eye. Anyone who tells you different is full of bull.

    Oh, and a guy skating over the bull’s eye is very different then the crotch shot of the woman on the bull’s eye. Give me a break.

  11. Hi, thanks for letting us know that! Somehow that doesn’t surprise me, as I’m sure the ‘big box’ mindset is to ‘think big’…and imho, that’s ‘off target’ in determining credibility/power of people’s preferences. As many have stated, T’s notion that they ‘might look into’ a shift in policy hints at the ‘numbers and analytics’ sphere once again, eluding to perhaps a loosening of policy to those they deem worthy to have a voice. To me, that STILL misses the mark in terms of underestimating ‘core influencers’ and comes across feeling arrogant…

    If a customer, (ANY customer/ANY age) has a concern or question, it should be directed or routed to someone who can help…period.

    It shouldn’t matter ‘what size you are’ to determine a policy as to whether you rate a response…there are better ways to handle customer service by far.

    I consider myself a ‘little guy’ but I’ve worked hard to be fair and forthright with a centrist voice, (which, again, is a ‘perceived value’ to those seeking integrity rather than swayed by ad dollars or vested interests) so to diss’ ANYone (blogger or not) based on the size of their voice seems foolhardy to me.

    Sheesh, this was ACCIDENTAL brouhaha…just think of what would’ve happened if we had been TRYING to make a stink and purposely aligned with ‘big guns’ in the social media sphere/cross pollinating w/mainstream clout? ouch. To me, businesses need to be aware of their customers/environs treating folks as humans rather than numbers, ‘compassion’ rather than core dollars…

    Hopefully, we’ll ALL come away with ‘lessons’ and ‘best practices’ here…;-)

  12. Oh, and yep, Elana, I obviously agree w/you that the marketers knew exactly what they were doing…as per my original post on larger scale objectification, which has fallen to the back pages of the blog and the recesses of people’s minds…

    But at least the ‘NYT blog policy’ story is noteworthy instead of the ‘one ad’ yay or nay context of the V-spot that got so trivialized over time…(sigh, someday, maybe we’ll get back to the ‘big picture’ objectification context/impact on kids!)
    (Original context, original post from almost a month ago: http://www.shapingyouth.org/blog/?p=969 )

  13. New fresh Target fodder…for those who never ‘got the point’ that it was NEVER intended to be about ‘one ad’ but about raising the bar of retail to get away from innuendo that’s shrill, harsh, and crass, objectifying and billed as a ‘so what?’ type of mistake…

    Puuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuhleeze…here’s Target’s new ‘hologram’ model for that healthy family wannabe uber-cool store struttin’ the NYC fashion runways via avatar bods that kids will ‘die for’…

    http://www.adrants.com/2007/10/target-gets-holographic-with-grand.php

    But…um…gosh…that targeting of the crotch was REALLY a coinkydink, n’est ce pas??? sigh…

    Until parents have the testicular fortitude to say ‘hey, knock it off’ and give a ruler whack to the wallet of corporate creepiness it’ll just keep on coming…If I have to “take the hit” for a misguided missile, in the hopes of a wake up bracer for parents to see this is ‘the norm’ NOT the exception of corporate policy to do the ‘wink-n-nod-let’s put it up ’til they carp about it’ bit…then so be it…fire away.

    Need I remind you about the gruesomely violent Captivity movie billboards with chopped up women being tortured that ‘accidentally’ got put up?— or the countless other oopsies…like…um….Lolita children’s beds anyone?

    sigh. I need a rest on controversy, here’s the Packaging Girlhood post and my replies:
    http://packaginggirlhood.typepad.com/packaging_girlhood/2008/02/the-lolita-bedr.html anyone ELSE wanna take this one?

  14. btw, since this dang story won’t die, (every day there are pings and links resurrecting the bloody thing) I’ll add this BRILLIANT response on another blog, since I keep getting asked the same question…’what would you have done if you were Target?’ etc.

    Here’s E.R.’s response:

    Bloggers are consumers…
    written by E.R., January 28, 2008 05:31 PM
    Target gets a lot right, but it’s true, they tripped over this one. On this issue, they might have considered saying:

    “In retrospect, perhaps the the logo may have been better positioned as a halo, since we intended the woman in the photo to be making a snow angel. We are proud, however, that bloggers and other new media critics view Target as an influential design force in America today. It is “design for all,” and that includes public interpretation of design. We would like to collaborate in the future with people who may have innovative design ideas for Target campaigns… we urge those who are interested to e-mail [email protected]

    E.

  15. Amy,

    My name is Rebecca Miller and I am the Online Content Manager for VERGO Marketing Inc. My colleague, Lonnie Sweeney, recent spoke with you at YPulse in regards to our website WintheUltimateProm.com. I reviewed your site, shapingyouth.com, and thought your content and premise would be a great fit with our site. Would you be interested in collaborating?

    Some ideas I came up with include having you do guest blogs or vlogs on our site. Your blog posts could be on popular topics featured on your site. Within each of your blogs or vlogs, we would provide an intro to who you and Shaping Youth are as well as links to your site.

    We would love to brainstorm collaboration ideas further. Please let us know what you think.

    Thank you,

    Rebecca Miller
    Online Content Manager
    VERGO Marketing Inc.
    4014 N. Goldwater Blvd.
    Suite 204
    Scottsdale, AZ 85251
    O: 480.990.1399
    E: [email protected]
    http://www.vergomarketing.com

  16. I know Target attempted to ignore you and new media all together. But they will soon learn that, that is not a good strategy. We will see if they ignore this. Take a look at this video.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SD6Wa2mydw&feature=channel_page

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