Defying the Law of Conglomerate Physics in the Digital Age

Publicis and Omnicom Merger

French advertising giant Publicis and its American rival Omnicom recently announced that the two firms were merging to create the world’s biggest advertising company. The new company, which will become a $35 billion advertising behemoth, will be called Publicis Omnicom Group and be jointly led by Omnicom CEO John Wren and Publicis CEO Maurice Levy as co-chief executives.  The new company will control more than 40% of US ad spending which is sending ripples throughout the industry and produced a lively debate as to how the huge mega conglomerate will impact both large and small competitors.  Some competitors see the merger as an opportunity to steal clients who want a more personal advertising approach, while others have voiced concerns that the merger will lead to unfair competition.

The merger likely will create more than just a few “client conflicts,” with brands like Bud Light, Miller Lite, Coca Cola and Pepsi now finding their iconic labels being managed by the same agency.  The success of this merger may, in the end, be determined by two primary factors: client reactions and the impact of scalability.  While a number of big clients publicly shrugged off concerns, it’s hard to ignore the potential for conflicts of interest.   Although the co-leaders of Publicis Omnicom are talking about achieving $500 million in “efficiencies” because of the merger, those efficiencies have not yet been defined much less realized.  It’s possible, notes Paul Pellman, CEO of marketing analytics provider Adometry, that these efficiencies consist of leveraging data and digital marketing technologies at a grander scale. Pellman noted in “12 Things Direct Marketers Need to Know about the Omnicom-Publicis Merger” that the combined resources and assets could lead to a “more sophisticated” ad buying platform—one that drives audience attributes and real-time performance data to produce stronger results for less.

But we have all experienced before the phenomenon that bigger is not always better and projected benefits from predicted efficiencies are not always, or ever, fully realized.  As the size and organizational complexities of mega companies grow they tend to be less agile and slower to respond to subtle but impactful changes in marketing direction and the rapid pace of the digital media environment.  In addition, the inevitable conflicts between departmentalized fiefdoms, which are inherent in mega organizations, will certainly have a negative impact on creativity and innovation.  As Larry Deutsch, EVP and general manager of Blue Chip says, “scale has no connection to innovation and can actually end up hurting the conglomerates rather than helping them.”

Some industry analysts predict that many smaller brands will begin to flee within the next three to six months. As well, when competitor brands like PepsiCo Inc. and Coca-Cola Co. begin sharing the same roof under the merger, some marketing insiders are already wondering how soon brands such as these will tire of sharing their resources and walk away.  Such a migration, if realized, will produce significant opportunities for smaller, more creative agencies that focus on differentiating themselves from the pack and who successfully leverage their unique capabilities to offer innovative solutions to their clients.   The reality is that marketers will spend their money with whoever does digital marketing the best.  Even ad networks like Hearst Media and Merideth Corp are taking a piece of the social spend because they have innovative offerings like influencer marketing, content strategies and mobile solutions.  Mega firms like the new Publicis Omnicom Group will have to move with the agility of an emerging start-up to totally dominate in digital marketing, a reality that may just defy the law of conglomerate physics.

Bigger Not Always Better in the World of Marketing

Procter and Gamble Products

Procter & Gamble Company (P&G), an American multinational consumer goods company, is as familiar to the average American as Mom and her famous apple pie.  Established in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1837 by William Proctor and James Gamble, the new company weathered the economic storms and a plethora of competitors to stake out a leadership role in the quickly expanding consumer products market.

Consumers today, as every generation since its founding, are as familiar with one or several P&G brands as they are with their closest sibling.  P&G recorded $83.68 billion in sales in 2012 through product segments including; beauty, grooming, health, snacks and pet care, fabric and home care, baby care and family home care.  To remain ahead of its competitors, P&G spends a reported 9.3 billion dollars globally on advertising and marketing in prior years and retains a world-wide market share of 20%.

When P&G management recently announced that it would be retraining marketing spend to focus on return on investment (ROI), its announcement succeeded in getting the ad industries attention very quickly.   Chief Financial Officer Jon Moeller said he expects advertising spending to lag sales growth by about 0.2 percentage points this year.  Restraining ad spending below sales growth “does not mean less reach, less frequency,” Mr. Moeller said. “It means more effective advertising, the right mix of media, and, importantly, reducing non-advertising costs that the consumers never see.”  He said the share of P&G marketing spending on digital in the U.S. is “up to 35%,” ranging down to 25% on some brands.  “We have some businesses and brands where digital is incredibly effective and we’re doing more.”  He went on to say, “We have other brands that are on the learning curve. We’ve got to get up the learning curve faster.”

The shift to larger marketing spend to digital should be a concern for large and ultra-large advertising and marketing agencies who have been struggling to retain their margins in the new Digital Age.  But the future of small agencies may be a bit brighter due in part to recent mergers of already giant firms into behemoth conglomerates who are motivated to leverage the relationships, investments and proprietary trading desks of their parent companies, a move that may not be in the best interest of clients.

While not every major marketer is inclined to throw their big ad firm over the side, some notable brands are viewing small agencies as a viable alternative to mega firms, providing an opportunity for small agencies to differentiate themselves and focus on a strategy of delivering value at every touch point with their clients.  As often is the case, mega company shareholders and investors on Wall Street tend to apply pressure to increase focus on revenue and equity, not creativity.  The best innovation and creative ideas usually flow from smaller organizations whose growth projections are more focused on deliverable value and creativity. Big is always bigger but bigger is not always better.  As more mindsets continue to change in the marketer’s arena opportunities for smaller, more creative, nimble and flexible agencies will likely abound.

Alarming Apps to Start Your Day

Alarm Apps

For all those who find it a significant challenge to rise out of slumber in the mornings to face the challenges of a new day comes another gadget-app designed to encourage, coax, pry, nudge or jolt you into a lucid state of mind and physical prescience.  The Walk-Up Alarm Clock App promises to join the array of alarm apps and traditional alarm clocks featuring loud bells, tones, whistles and often profane messages designed to awaken ultra sound sleepers for centuries.  And who among the death-level slumber’s hasn’t resorted to hiding those trusty devises in the underwear drawer or tucked securely across the bedroom in an effort to bring you to your feet each morning?

After years of struggling to roll out of bed before ten each morning, even resorting to a device that literally shook his bed, Ricky Ho had an epiphany.  His new app, Walk Up! Alarm Clock, aims to solve the problem of getting out of bed and on his feet by requiring him to take as many as 10 steps in order to silence the alarm.  Since it detects motion in all directions, Walk Up! even knows if you’re cheating by merely shaking your phone or crashing against the wall and into a distant corner.

Currently one of the top 10 utilities downloaded in the iTunes app store, the program comes with two default alarms, either a woman or a man screaming, plus options for several other jarring sounds, including a witch laughing, police sirens and coughing. The default skin shows a meteor approaching earth, but you can shell out an extra $0.99 to watch either a stick of dynamite about to blow or a shark approaching as you pace around your bedroom waiting for the clatter to stop. “The app is designed in every possible way to get you out of bed,” says Ho.   While Ricky’s application is only available for iPhone at this time,   Android users might want to try a similar app called Walk Me Up! Alarm Clock recently released by Bazzinga Labs.

Several other really effective alarm clock applications abound, like Freaky Alarm, which awakens your brain by forcing you to get out of bed to solve a series of games in order to silence the alarm.  Alarm Clock Xtreme, alarm clock and timer app, includes customizable features that prevent excessive snoozing to get you up and out of bed.  I Can’t Wake Up!, is a pretty catchy name for an alarm clock application that is designed for the true Olympian champions of oversleeping or the sleepers who see no challenge in a simple math problem or a sequence repeat. This alarm clock app comes with eight different wake-up games, like a memory game, a rewrite challenge, a pairs matching game and so on. You can also choose to scan a barcode with your phone or shake it until you fill up a green circle in order to stop the alarm.

Unless you have a Marine drill Sargent or a resident bugler as a roomy, these creative and effective applications may just be the answer to you getting it going in the morning and are a great example of how advances in technology often spawns an alternative solutions to the time tested alarm clock.

Breaking the Internet, One Site at a Time

System Failure

Computer systems and networks that make up the Internet have become critical to our everyday lives.  From sending simple personal emails and making individual online purchases to sophisticated info structure systems that control a vast array of vital delivery mechanisms such as energy transmission, communication and national defense.  These systems have evolved to become even more indispensable to the orderly function of our society, unfortunately so too have the hacking techniques of our national and international adversaries who are intent on causing economic and social disorder.  On a daily basis, the government and owners and operators of privately owned critical infrastructure are confronted with threats from terrorists, rogue states, and hackers that are growing more targeted, more sophisticated, and more serious.

But perhaps the most serious threat does not come from rouge states or terrorists but from shadowy and obscure hackers, those elite group of computer geeks, who toy with computers systems through the internet for no reason other than to demonstrate to the world their superior technical ability to play havoc with the lives of millions of internet users around the globe in and an overt effort to break the internet.

Early last month, Network Solutions (the original registrar and DNS for the Internet & Domain names during its inception) suffered through a Dedicated Denial of Service (DDoS) attack that had the effect of breaking their infrastructure, including the hijacking of over 5000 companies who lost control of their domain names.  The DDoS attackers overwhelmed servers by flooding a company’s pipeline with unwanted network packets.  Network Solutions, which manages more than 6 million domains, said on Facebook that its network security team was forced to respond to the attack. The outage is one of at least a dozen outages at cloud hosting providers impacting users in 2013.

Network Solutions problems followed the cyber-attack on Spamhaus, a European anti-spam organization, causing trouble for a lot of innocent bystanders.  The DDoS is a crude, artless way to bring down a specific online target simply by harnessing botnets to flood a network with requests for information. Target servers are paralyzed by the fake queries. In this incident the villain is thought to have been a Dutch concern, Cyberbunker, with a reported business vendetta against Spamhaus.  The unprecedented escalation of the commercial cyber conflict with Spamhaus caused costly trouble for countless uninvolved organizations throughout Europe.

The rolling attacks continue with the most recent DDoS move against Endurance International Group’s (EIG) HostGator and BlueHost and the threat remains as multiple hackers create effective, perpetual avalanche of attacks against singular servers, pointing out the fragile nature of the internet.  In the opinion of many, it’s only going to get worse with the growth of more powerful mobile devises and cell phones.  The benefits of a faster more powerful internet will be shared by both good and evil forces making it imperative for companies to continue to focus on security and implementing IT policies that will fend off unwanted and costly intrusions.

The vast majority of the problems originate from outside the United States where users in places like Africa, Asia and India are finding it difficult to upgrade to newer and more secure operating systems.  In an effort to trim operating costs and downscale, these companies increase the likelihood of downtime which results in an increased loss of revenue.

It’s time for uptime-conscious companies to assess their Internet carrier’s capacity to deflect persistent, long-lasting DDoS assaults and to fend-off so-called “multi-vector” attacks.  Carriers who constantly and preemptively scan the horizon, identifying threats, sequester them and protect their customers before trouble actually occurs will prosper and will save millions of internet users around the globe from suffering an internet outage.

Now That Is A Spoonful…

Cheerios Commercial

Parent, or not, spend just a few minutes with a kid and it quickly becomes obvious that children view the world very differently than adults.  This fact is no mystery to marketers who understand the impact that today’s young family members have on the buying decisions made by the adults in their family.  Kids represent an important demographic to marketers because, in addition to their own purchasing power (which is considerable), they influence their parents’ buying decisions and are the adult consumers of the future.  According to the 2008 YTV Kids and Tweens Report, kids influence the purchase of breakfast and lunch choices up to 97% of the time, clothing purchases 95% of the time, software purchases 76% of the time, computer purchases 60% of the time and family entertainment choices 98% of the time.  No wonder targeting and advertising to children has exploded over the past several decades.

Parents today are willing to buy more for their kids because trends such as smaller family size, dual incomes and postponing having children until later in life mean that families have more disposable income. As well, guilt can play a role in spending decisions as time-stressed parents substitute material goods for time spent with their kids.  And while understanding the world through the eyes of a child has gotten much more sophisticated today, “pester power” (remember the toys in the cereal boxes) remains the staple approach to motivating parents purchasing decision.

With the joining of psychology and marketing, advertisers now have access to in-depth knowledge about children’s developmental, emotional and social needs at different ages, opening up opportunities to engage younger consumers more effectively with messages fine-tuned to attract attention and motivate kids into action.  Not surprising, technology is playing a significant role in reaching the minds of the younger generation and not just by utilizing tools and methods like  immersive “advergames“(video games made specifically to advertise a product),  popular animated characters and mobile apps but also by developing a new technological delivery vehicle to bring important messages down to kids size.

A billboard in Spain created by an organization dedicated to aiding abused children shows a different message to children and adults even if both see the ad at the same time on the same board.  The use of lenticular printing, allows different images to be seen at different vantage points.  In this case, if the billboard is seen by children who are less than 4 feet 3 inches in height, the message is different than when viewed by an average sized adult.

Even with all the science and technology, toys and tools, advertisers are learning that kids have a seemingly odd perspective on the world creating unique social and moral challenges to marketing to a diverse and complex audience.    Saatchi & Saatchi’s famous Cheerios commercial with the interracial couple has opened up the conversation once again on how differently children interpret a message and perceive the world very differently than adults, giving new credence to the fact that much of how adults view the world is dependent upon what we have learned from our family, cultural environment and our exposure to society as a whole.  When explored in a video by the Fine Brothers, kids between the ages of 7 and 13 didn’t understand why the Cheerios commercial may have been thought to be controversial.  But perhaps the best example of how kids see things is evidenced through BBDO’s new AT&T’s “Bigger; Faster; More;” commercials.  Children, and simplicity, are at the core of the classic-in-the-making “It’s not complicated” campaign for AT&T.

Unlike most adults, children often do not understand everything that is going on around them, so they make up stories and their own impressions to describe some situations in their lives like school, toys and parents.  Understanding kids perspectives and perceptions in all things in their worlds view is fundamental to effectively marketing to the younger generation.  Is the method and message controversial or just “stupid”?

Marketers Beware of Brand Busting Blunders

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Few of us look favorably on having the dubious honor of having our errors called out and scrutinized for the whole of the world to see and debate.  It is not hard to imagine that those who are charged with insuring quality control at Nike wish that they could find a nice, quiet, out- of- the- way place to hide right now.  The sports apparel maker recently offered a Panthers T-shirt which included a blue silhouette of the state of South Carolina, the team’s logo inside the silhouette and the letters “NC” in the upper left corner of the silhouette. The shirt sold for $32, but was soon taken down from the company’s web store.  Company spokesman Brian Strong said in an email that a small quantity of the shirts was offered for sale and shouldn’t have been. He said Nike apologizes for the error.

Nike is one of the world’s largest suppliers of athletic shoes and apparel and a major manufacturer of sports equipment, with revenue in excess of $24.1 billion with more than 44,000 employees worldwide.  Many would argue that all the hype over the products geographic error, while embarrassing, is an example of “to error is human” and that “we all make mistakes”; albeit some more noticeable, expensive and brand damaging than others.  For marketing professionals the mistake is indicative of potentially far greater problems within Nike management when it comes to quality, brand identity and fulfilling the brand promise.  The Nike brand alone is valued at $10.7 billion, making it the most valuable brand among sports businesses.

As the premier licensor of NFL apparel and memorabilia, Nike plays in arenas where a fumble on the goal line, or in the opposing opponent’s court in the final seconds of the championship, is akin to a life ending event for micro-discerning sports fans who demand flawless performances from their sports heroes.  Fans who visited Nike’s NFL apparel website on its opening day this year were treated to a number of misrepresentations of player numbers and team logo misprints.  While NFL teams have a preseason to debug and correct their performances prior to opening day marketers have no such luxury in a highly completive and often unforgiving business environment.  Such seemingly innocent errors, left unchecked, will surely bench the image of the industry’s best performing superstar.

The most recent snafu follows a number of negative, public relations apparel embarrassments for Nike earlier this year, neither of which could have been foreseen by Nike, lest they employed a Chrystal ball.  After the tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon, Nike pulled from the market T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Boston Massacre”.  The shirts, which featured blood-splattered lettering, were designed for New York Yankees fans to describe a pivotal late-season sweep by the Yankees of the rival Boston Red Sox in 1978. That season culminated in a World Series championship for the Yankees.  This clearly falls into the “some days you can’t win category” of marketing endeavors and Nike quickly and responsibly responded.

In the wake of the shooting death of his girlfriend in April, murder charges were leveled at Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius and Nike was in the position to pull an ad from the South African’s website proclaiming, “I am the bullet in the chamber.”  The ad showed an image of Pistorius, who first made history in London last year when he became the first double-amputee track athlete to compete in the Olympic Games, propelling himself from the barrel of a gun.

The fault for these unforeseen events cannot fairly be laid at the apparel giant’s feet, but given the huge increase of criminal misbehavior by prominent sports stars, Nike may find it wise to reconsider linking their brand, marketing content and images with violence and weaponry.  In the high- tech, fast paced digital, social media and mobile marketing world, complacency is not an option for company’s who want to avoid brand busting blunders.

 

 

Thinking Outside of the Bun

Yum Brands Taco Bell

Recently Yum! Brands Inc. (YUM), owner of the KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut dining chains, posted first-quarter profits that topped analysts’ estimates as new menu items helped Taco Bell’s domestic sales.  Net income fell 26 percent to $337 million, or 72 cents a share, from $458 million, or 96 cents, a year earlier.  While significant challenges remain for KFC in the international segment, Taco Bell produced positive results from its new cool-ranch Doritos Locos Tacos product that was significant enough to carry the day for its two siblings.  Chief Executive Officer David Novak is trying to lure U.S. consumers with new food at Taco Bell in an effort to double last year’s $7 billion in domestic sales from the company’s Taco Bell subsidiary by 2021.

The good news at Taco Bell comes after a massive new marketing strategy was implemented in the spring of 2012 to counter a difficult sales year in 2011, when existing store sales dropped two percent over the previous period.  “Live Más” replaced “Think Outside the Bun,” which had been Taco Bell’s tagline since 1999, and followed a two-year run of “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” commercials starring a talking Chihuahua.  “Live Más” risked confusing consumers who were accustomed to the value oriented Taco Bell of old, but the chain was seeking to elevate its food profile by extending its breakfast platform to 800 locations, roll out a higher-end Cantina menu and “reinvent the taco” with the Doritos Locos Taco, a product for which Frito-Lay constructed a proprietary shell made from Doritos.  If the current performance is any indication, the new strategy was worth the risk.

“Taglines are important expressions of brand positioning that restaurants have staked out, and consumers can connect the dots, but I’ve never seen a tagline turn a brand around or drive same-store sales,” said Dan Dahlen, chief executive of Dahlen Communications Inc.

The company’s integrated marketing and consumer engagement effort includes advertising (television, radio, outdoor, digital and cinema), as well as social and public relations support features songs performed in Spanish and is aimed at blending cultures and to remind consumers of Taco Bells Mexican-Inspired Brand.  The new ad introduced Taco Bells new Cool Ranch Doritos Locos taco and is part of Taco Bell’s largest marketing campaign to date.

This year the campaign began by building up awareness of the Cool Ranch DLT, for about three weeks the prior by utilizing its social media channels, providing sneak peeks at the new taco with password-only “speakeasy” events in New York, Dallas and Los Angeles.  Taco Bell worked with a documentary filmmaker and Twitter as well as the bands Passion Pit and Wild Cat Wild Cat which are part of Taco Bell’s long-running “Feed the Beat” program.  The campaign executed “speakeasies” in New York, Dallas and Los Angeles, in which the chain identified fans and “social-media influencers” and invited them to sample the product early by giving them a “secret pass code.” Once fans given the pass code unlocked it, they were then prompted to spread the word via social media so that others could try the product as well.

The launch was also supported by TV ads inspired by consumer responses to the original Doritos Locos Taco, and subsequent demand for a Cool Ranch version.  One 30-second launch spot, titled “World’s Most Obvious Idea,” illustrated everyday consumer reactions to Nacho Cheese DLT, saying “they should make a Cool Ranch one.”  In addition, on all Cool Ranch DLT wrappers, cups and $5 Big Boxes Taco Bell  invites fans to post to Instagram or Tweet their best #wow or #duh face, using those specific hashtags, followed by #CoolRanchDLT, for the chance to see their photo reactions on a big screen billboard in Times Square.

Perhaps the most unique component in the creative marketing strategy is Taco Bell’s 3-D spot made in partnership with NCM Media Networks.  The new spot is the first QSR 3-D spot in cinema industry history and was first viewed on more than 8,000 3-D screens in top movie theaters nationwide, a 2-D version of the campaign also ran across NCM’s full cinema network of more than 19,300 screens.  Taco Bell made the upfront commitment with NCM to make the best strategic use of the big screen on a consistent basis to amplify the brand’s key promotions throughout this year. NCM estimates that 90 percent of its theaters are within a 5-mile radius of a Taco Bell location making it geographically significant to the brands outlets.  The campaign is the brand’s largest marketing campaign in its history.

Taco Bell most recently announced that it’s eliminating kids’ meals from its menu. Touting itself as the first national fast-food chain to do so, company officials said its ditching kids’ meals because they aren’t relevant to its core customers.  “As we continue our journey of being a better, more relevant Taco Bell, kid’s meals and toys simply no longer make sense for us to put resources behind,” said Greg Creed, CEO of Taco Bell, in a statement. “What does make sense is concentrating on expanding choices that meet and exceed the diverse needs of consumers of all ages, without losing focus on what makes us great today.”

The more than $100 million dollar gamble spreads the message and the risk across all media; social, digital and traditional, and appears to be drawing in new customers while successfully securing the loyalty of its most avid fan base.  While early assessment indicates some impressive movement in the right direction, time will tell whether the innovative strategy to reinvent the taco and make the company more relevant will result in significant sustainable results in profits for Taco Bell and its parent company.

Say What? Huh? Sorry, Time Is Up.

Vine and Instagram

I have something really important to tell you about.  Do you have six seconds?

It seems that the ever shrinking video and sound bite has now been reduced to a mere six seconds, so choose your words and images carefully if you want to impart a message to another through this media.  Vine, a mobile app owned by Twitter that enables its users to create and post video clips that can be shared or embedded on social networking services such as Twitter and Facebook, has attracted an estimated 13 million users who feel they can tell their story in just six seconds.  We all are accustomed to those 15 and 30 second commercial messages that hardly allow us enough time to sneak a look away and grab a snack, chug a gulp or click a switch and let’s face it, a political message longer than 30 seconds is just plain tooth- grinding painful.  Though, oddly enough, Vine appears to be achieving notable success.

Unruly, the video tech company that tracks, measures and predicts the success of more conventional online video advertising, is going to do the same for Vine and will offer up the Vine Academy to help advertisers create content designed to motivate and educate in 6-ticks or less.  Those abbreviated messages would then be distributed through a new proprietary, Unruly Vine app and social video player to a theorized 978 million users.  Of course this premise is largely dependent on advertisers willingness to invest their marketing spend on creating a message that consumers may come to regard as a little less annoying than a common house fly.  After all, such a brief script may be as effective in getting a prospective audience’s attention as slamming a door.

However, the future of micro brevity may be short lived by the rise in popularity of Instagram, the competing and relatively long-winded, online photo-sharing, video-sharing and social networking service that enables its users to take pictures and videos, apply digital filters to them, and share them on a variety of social networking services, such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr.  After launch in October 2010, the service rapidly gained popularity, with over 100 million active users as of April 2012.  Clearly, at twice the time length, it is leading the pittance contest.

The future of either platform, as a viable commercial marketing and advertising tool, will be determined on how well the abbreviated content is received by consumers and how valid measurements of their effectiveness are perceived by marketers and media professionals.  In an era where media audiences are being carpet bombed from all points in the universe, weary consumers may consider the projected billion, pop sized messages as little more than just unwelcome noise.

Let’s all take a deep breath and smell the roses.  Oops, sorry times up.

Is it Social Commerce or a Product Marketing License Agreement?

Feed Program Joins with Target

On June 30th, Target® Corporation launched a partnership with FEED Projects, a social business founded by Lauren Bush, to create the FEED USA + Target collection. The limited-time-only collection includes more than 50 stylish products and benefit Feeding America, the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity. The products are available at Target’s 1787 stores and on Target.com.  “As the founder of FEED, I am passionate about the fight against hunger and am thrilled to partner with Target to create our first ever co-branded lifestyle collection,” said Lauren Bush Lauren. “Through product sales, we hope to provide 10 million meals to Americans in need, which would make it the largest U.S. initiative in FEED’s history. I am proud that we will be able to empower guests to make a measurable impact through the purchase of the FEED USA + Target collection.”

Featuring an Americana aesthetic, the collection includes products spanning home, sporting goods, stationery, and apparel and accessories, with prices ranging from $3.00 to $400.00.  Each product displays the number of meals that will be donated to children and families through Feeding America as a result of the purchase.  The collection, with its modern, casual and hand-crafted feel, was co-designed by Lauren Bush Lauren.   “Establishing meaningful partnerships is part of Target’s brand legacy, from innovative design collaborations to long-term community programs,” said Stacia Andersen, senior vice president, merchandising, Target.  “Through our partnership with FEED, we are offering our guests an exclusive, stylish collection that also supports an important cause.”  Since its founding in 1946, the retailer has continually pledged 5% of its profits to its communities, a sum of that adds up to $4 million each week.

Only time will determine if this most recent collaboration between retail and social based business will result in increased sales, continued positive brand image for Target and significant funds for FEED USA causes. The program has spawned a debate among marketers as to whether the effort constitutes an expanded form of social commerce, sometimes abbreviated as “s-ecommerce,” a term most often used to describe new online retail models or marketing strategies that incorporate established social networks and/or peer-to-peer communication to drive sales.  The term social commerce first appeared in Yahoo!’s search blog in 2005. The Internet Company used the phrase to describe tools and products that make online shopping more social by means of leveraging social networks and facilitating user-driven content.

Whether or not it’s to be deemed social commerce is still up for debate. It has left some on social networks to lament over the quality and desirability of the product offerings. Yet others predict that most consumers are likely to buy the products in order to support FEED USA endeavors–rather than for the love of fashion.  Still others suggest a direct donation to one or more of the many good causes to feed hungry children without buying merchandise from Target.

Regardless of the tone of the message, it is clear that a conversation is taking place and both partners are positively impacting this social cause.  Is FEED USA + Target collection an example of the expanded definition of social commerce?  Is it just another cleaver, do-good product marketing license agreement designed to make consumers aware of the noble cause of FEED USA? And possibly, could it be a really effective marketing campaign to build sales and elevate Target’s brand legacy of building strong, healthy and safe communities through giving and service?  We’d love to know what you think!