A film starring Hollywood actress Kristen Bell and helmed by an award-winning Mad Men director debuted on Tuesday, but you won't find it at the cinemas - Falling for You will appear only on Target.com.
The US discount chain's foray into film is a twist on traditional product placement, in which studios get paid, for example, to place a can of Coke in an on-screen kitchen or a Budweiser sign in a bar.
Instead, Target has made a 12-minute romantic comedy in which almost everything on-screen is for sale at Target and available for immediate purchase.
Luxury brands such as Gucci, David Yurman and Neiman Marcus Group helped pioneer so-called "shoppable videos" amid surging online viewership. These efforts typically resemble TV commercials with products you can click on and buy.
Target has taken the marketing tactic a leap further by creating an episodic mini-series to draw shoppers into a story.
"This is the blending of the Home Shopping Network and entertainment," said Leon Nicholas, an analyst for Kantar Retail in Boston.
Target's innovative marketing, a key to its success, may be more important than ever as investors discount its stock by 42 per cent on a price-to-sales basis with the Standard & Poor's 500 Retailing Index.
Heralded on the website as a "Target Style Short Film", the video is part of the discounter's seasonal marketing campaign.
The main goal is to create buzz for its "Fall For" slogan and its private-label products. More than 100 of these are advertised in the short film, which was directed by Mad Men director Phil Abraham and written by Semi Chellas, a Mad Men co-writer.
The first of three four-minute episodes started Tuesday on Target's website. The finale will run October 9.
Bell, who starred in the film Forgetting Sarah Marshall, plays a Target marketing manager competing with colleagues - including her love interest - to have her idea chosen for a fall fashion event.
In an early scene, viewers see her running through a park. As she comes into focus, icons of the pants, shoes and shirt she is wearing scroll down the screen just to the right of the video window.
While the episode continues to play, viewers can click on the C9 by Champion products, an exclusive Target brand, and check them out after the episode. They can share them on social media sites such as Pinterest and Facebook as well, or buy them immediately.
And, even if they don't that's fine by Target, according to marketing executive Shawn Gensch. "The way we gauge success here is the differentiation of the Target brand," he said. "This is one component of a very robust messaging calendar and at a very key season for retail."
Target declined to say how much it spent on the project. Shoppable entertainment may be a hint of what's to come as the mashup of the Web and TV accelerates, said Max Lenderman, director of experiential marketing at the advertising agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky.
He said that for years, advertisers have been dreaming of a way to make it easy for people to buy products they see on-screen, and this could be a first step.
"It's kind of like what 'smart TV' has been promising everyone forever," Lenderman said. A scenario in which "someone likes something on a show, and on your remote-control you can click and buy it. This is a panacea for marketers."
Analyst Leon Nicholas said the retailer's cheap-chic ethos - exemplified by its slogan of "Expect More. Pay Less" - has helped it close on US$70 billion-plus in annual sales. A large part of that growth has been driven by its quirky and risky marketing.
But the chic part of Target's pitch to consumers goes beyond offering fashion-house dresses and funny ads, according to Amy Koo, also an analyst with Kantar. It also wants to convey coolness by embracing technology. That's been lacking online, where its website's performance and innovation has trailed competitors'.
"They're trying to bring 'expect more' to the website," Koo said. "The site now is more just getting it done."
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