Target is dangling JT and some swimsuits to get its sexy back.
Sunday night's Grammy Awards wasn't just the return of Justin Timberlake. The buzz from the "SexyBack" singer also rubbed off on Target, which rolled out a commercial during the awards touting an exclusive version of JT's first album in six years, "The 20/20 Experience."
The retailer also will announce Tuesday that it's teaming with Sports Illustrated to present six pages of ads in this year's swimsuit issue. Target also launched an exclusive spring design collection from Prabal Gurung over the weekend.
It's all part of the latest marketing push from Jeff Jones. Since joining the Minneapolis retailer as chief marketing officer last year, he has taken Target's traditional marketing strength and fused it with a pop-culture twist.
Target "is a brand that is built on the fundamental principle of differentiation [including]?...?moments in pop culture," Jones told the Star Tribune during an interview Monday. "Music is one of those moments. That's why the Grammys are so important. Our brand is helping to bring back one of these important moments to JT. We're doing something that benefits him. And he's doing something that benefits us."
The Timberlake spot -- which features the pop star dressed in a classic tux walking slowly toward a microphone that sports Target's logo -- is already giving Target a big boost. The retailer is accepting pre-orders of the album, which will hit shelves in March and feature two exclusive tracks.
"This is a strong ad," said Bill Day, executive director of Frank N. Magid Associates, a Minneapolis-based marketing consulting firm. "It makes good use of the iconic Target colors and logo with just enough drama to hold consumers' interest and a compelling reason to shop at Target."
And how did Target promote the Gurung collaboration? By throwing a lavish launch party during New York Fashion Week attended by actresses Elizabeth Olsen and Rashida Jones. Naturally.
Jeff Jones "has come up with a lot of innovative ideas," said Amy Koo, an analyst with the Kantar Retail consulting firm in Boston.
Target's string of marketing moves comes on the heels of its failed merchandise partnership with Neiman Marcus over the holidays. While the retailer hoped to benefit from the Neiman Marcus name, consumers balked at the pricing, which forced Target to heavily discount the merchandise. Target's December same-store sales were flat, a weak finish to 2012.
"There's no question we were disappointed with the collection's performance," Jones said. "But we are not afraid to try new things. Some will work and some will not. If you're not pushing the boundaries, then you're not innovating as a company."
But Jones quickly has bounced back. The retailer recently hosted a live "fashion" show on Twitter in which models touted products like brownie mix and rubber gloves using the exact words of users' tweets. The collaboration with Gurung, a rising fashion designer who has dressed Kate Middleton and Michelle Obama, also seems off to a good start. David Strasser, an analyst with Janney Capital Management, reported relatively strong sales at the stores he visited.
"It seemed like it was going well," Strasser said. "It feels like a much better vibe than Neiman Marcus."
Jones declined to disclose sales but said "we are feeling good about how this collection is getting started."
Target's partnership with SI won't be just splashy photos with women in bikinis. There will also be a how-to guide for women who need help in assembling an ideal look for the pool or beach.
"Most people think the issue is for guys," Jones said. "But the women readership is actually shocking. Target has long been a destination for swimwear. It was a great opportunity to try something that has never been done before."
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