Target misses the target with a traumatic holiday ad.

Target is a very savvy marketing company, and like all large marketers, it conducts a lot of consumer research and pretests all its commercials.

Yet after all of that, Target has come up with what I think is a very negative TV ad, one in which they get connected to a traumatic moment in the life of a dysfunctional family.   

Here’s a précis of the ad (and I may have some of the words in quotes wrong, but not the thoughts of those quotes nor the underlying emotional tenor):  Mom, Dad and Daughter are around the Christmas tree and Mom unwraps a large flat-screen TV.  Dad says something like, “I thought Santa was watching his pennies this year” through clenched teeth to which Mom answers, again with clenching of teeth, “Santa thought we could afford it.”  Back and forth it goes, each time a tad more hostility in the voices, back and forth between Mom and Dad, with a shot of Daughter listening, a little terrified.  The last shot is of Mom, an odd mixture of happiness and terror on her face, saying, “But what if Santa got a good deal.”  Then the screen cuts to the Target logo.

The cut to Target is ambivalent, meaning it could signify two things.  But both are bad for Target, as follows:

  • Either the ad is saying, avoid this tense scene about money by buying at Target.


  • Target has turned this mom into a heroine (but the heroine is near tears and the family seems to be falling apart right underneath the Christmas tree).

Christmas is an aspirational holiday.  We aspire to show our loved ones that we love them, which in the United States means buying them something that they really like.  There is nothing aspirational about a thinly veiled argument over money in front of the kid on Christmas morning in which both parents bandy about a symbol of childhood happiness, Santa, as if it were a symbolic rapier.  Not waiting to talk until the kids are off somewhere is certainly a sign of a dysfunctional family.  Why would Target executives think that linking to this disturbing family vignette would make people feel warm and cozy inside about buying at their stores?

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