What #AlexFromTarget Can Teach Us About Seizing Social Opportunities

On Sunday, Twitter user @auscalum tweeted a photo of an attractive young clerk at Target bagging groceries. Less than 24 hours later, a new meme was born, with #AlexFromTarget trending on Twitter. Thousands of tweets, likes, shares, and retweets later, Alex is a celebrity and Target has a brief window of opportunity to capitalize on free, organic publicity. How should the brand’s marketers take advantage of the situation?

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On Monday, Target joined in the fun with a tweet of its own, which both acknowledged the meme and provided a little lighthearted commentary. The tweet was an instant hit and has to date been retweeted 27,000 times and favorited 42,000 times.

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Jumping on the “Alex From Target” bandwagon was a smart move for the company and could help the brand rehabilitate its image after recent data security breaches earned it negative press, says Jonathan Rick, president of the Jonathan Rick Group.

“Alex From Target has fueled feel-good, free press about the company, which should be happy to be in the news for something other than being hacked,” Rick says. “Deploying humor can be tricky online, but when done right — as Target did yesterday — it can draw genuine laughs, build reservoirs of good will, and sharpen brand equity.”

But Target should probably push harder to capitalize on the brand’s unexpected boost in favorability, according to Bob Cargill, social media director at Overdrive Interactive.

“Quite quickly, [Target] demonstrated their awareness of [Alex’s] presence as a new viral sensation, which is step one,” Cargill says. “Their next step could very well be to feature him in a full-fledged advertising campaign a la Jared Fogle, the Subway Guy. Chances are Target is plotting to take advantage of Alex’s popularity in some way, shape, or form.”

However, sometimes being too quick to employ a catchy hashtag can backfire, leaving companies in trouble. For example, in September DiGiorno Pizza used the hashtag #whyistayed without fully understanding it, which resulted in the brand accidentally making a tasteless joke about domestic violence.

“Before Target gets too carried away, I’m sure they want to learn more about their potential new spokesman. In this case, I think it makes sense for them to pause before they post,” Cargill says.

Jonathan Rick agrees that Twitter can be a dangerous place for brands that tweet without thinking.

“Miss the mark even by a little, and the [tweet] can backfire,” says Rick. “This happened to The Washington Post, which embraced an Upworthy-style headline in a tweet about child molestation, and CNNB, which followed suit when reporting the stabbing of an 11-year-old girl.”

In the fast-paced world of social media and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it memes, brands must be timely and sensitive to make the most of a viral opportunity, Cargill says.

“On social media, there is a very fine line between capitalizing on the moment and acting far too impulsively.”

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