NEW YORK — A film starring actress Kristen Bell and helmed by an award-winning “Mad Men” director debuted Tuesday. You won’t find it at the multiplex or on AMC. “Falling for You” will appear only on Target.com.
Target Corp.’s foray into film is a twist on traditional product placement, where studios get paid to place a can of Coke in an on-screen kitchen or a Budweiser sign in a bar. The second-largest U.S. discount chain 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 miniseries 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 percent on a price-to-sales basis with the Standard & Poor’s 500 Retailing Index. In 2008, the discounter’s shares were valued at a 9 percent premium to the measure of 31 retailers.
Heralded on the website as a “Target Style Short Film,” the video is part of the discounter’s fall marketing plan. 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, which was directed by Phil Abraham and written by Semi Chellas, also a “Mad Men” alum. The first of three 4-minute episodes started Tuesday on Target.com. The finale is Oct. 9.
Bell, who starred in “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. “This is one component of a very robust messaging calendar and at a very key season for retail,” said Shawn Gensch, a Target senior vice president who oversaw the film project.
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. 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, he said.
“It’s kind of like what ‘smart TV’ has been promising everyone forever,” Lenderman said. “Someone likes something on a show, and on your remote control you can click and buy it. This is a panacea for marketers.”
It’s no surprise that Target is one of the first retailers to invest in such a project, Nicholas said. “It lines up pretty well with Target’s desire to be forward-thinking,” said Nicholas, who has followed the chain for several years.
The retailer’s cheap chic ethos – personified by its slogan of “Expect More. Pay Less” – has helped it close on $70 billion-plus in annual sales. A large part of that growth has been driven by its quirky and risky marketing, including commercials featuring an oddly obsessed shopper and stunts that included a holiday-season shop on a boat docked off Manhattan.
The chic part of Target’s pitch to consumers also wants to convey coolness by embracing technology, said Amy Koo, also a Kantar analyst. That’s been lacking online, where its website’s innovation has trailed that of competitors. “They’re trying to bring ‘Expect More’ to the website,” Koo said. “The site now is more just getting it done.”