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Target Falls Into Fall With Shoppable Branded Content Push

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Target is known for its unconventional marketing campaigns, including one starring a giant Missoni-wearing puppet, another that turned its billboards into tote bags as well as a light and dance extravaganza that took place within the windows of a chic New York hotel. This fall the brand is going Hollywood with a celebrity-driven branded content film that also happens to be shoppable.

Starting today, the Minneapolis-based retailer began rolling out "Falling For You," a three-part romantic comedy starring Kristen Bell, Zach Abel and Nia Long. The plotline revolves around a pair of Target team members, played by Bell and Abel, who are competing to create the retailer's next huge Fall marketing campaign event.

The film was created out of Minneapolis-based agency Space150 and directed by Phil Abraham, known for his work directing Mad Men and The Sopranos. It will feature 110 goods across the retailer's home, beauty and fashion categories, and viewers will be able to flag and share the items as they appear in the film, and later, purchase them directly from Target's online store.

The first episode debuted today at Target.com/fallingforyou and future installments will roll out on October 4 and 9, all culminating in a live event on October 10 in New York City that will be streamed online and will also be shoppable by viewers nationwide.

A Campaign about a Campaign
According to Target SVP-Marketing Shawn Gensch, the 2012 Falling For campaign took inspiration, story-wise, and strategically, from its 2010 Kaleidoscopic Spectacular, a multiplatform campaign out of Mother New York and Olson that turned the windows of New York's Standard Hotel into the stage for a dazzling light and dance show. The experience became a national event through a live online broadcast.

"That was really pivotal in that we made the live experience go virtual," said Mr. Gensch. "You didn't have to be in New York at the Standard to experience it." Also, "There's so much story that goes into the creation of these events to differentiate Target and to break through that we said, 'Why not create a prequel, if you will, to build out the storyline in a playful way, get some momentum going up to the event and then allow the event to come to life the way we normally would, and make it virtual.'"

"We gave the agency a brief saying that we wanted to find a way to tell the back story to the amazing experiences and events that Target creates," said Mr. Gensch. Space150, Target and director Phil Abraham collaborated closely to create the proper narrative for the film. "Billy [Jurewicz, CEO/CCO Space150] had the idea for the characters in a romantic comedy and we had to figure out the three distinct chapters of the story, keep you wanting to be invested week after week," said Mr. Abraham, whose commercial projects are produced by Recommended Media.

From Dark to Light
Mr. Abraham's oeuvre skews toward sophisticated, darker themes--a far cry from the campaign's rom-com theme--but he says the collaborative potential of the project was a draw. "It wasn't just a normal commercial project," he said. "It was a fifteen-minute film and in many ways, it's closer to doing dramatic television than a thirty-second spot." But rather than signing on after the idea was fully formed, he came into the project very early on. "What I really enjoyed about it is that they had me working from the conception stage." To help craft the story, he also brought in his Mad Men colleague, writer Semi Chellas. The pair had worked together on the show's "The Other Woman" (in which character Joan agreed to spend a night with a client to win SCDP the Jaguar account) , for which both earned Emmy nominations.

This is the sort of branded content project that could run the risk of feeling clunky and forced, but the first episode happens to be quite fun, thanks in large part to Ms. Bell's effortless clutzy-but-lovable performance. "I was a champion of Kristen early on and really saw her in this role," Mr. Abraham said. "She has such a natural presence on screen that even if things might sound wooden, with some, they wouldn't with her." Moreover, characterization and dialogue were key. "It was a mandate from all of us that the people should feel relatable and real," said Mr. Abraham. "If people are spouting stilted dialogue, it's just going to feel ridiculous."

The shoppability factor--what Mr. Gensch finds one of the most exciting aspects of the push, is also fairly unobtrusive, with Target items scrolling in a separate window to the right as the film continues uninterrupted. It may not read as innovative as other interactive films that integrate the shoppability directly into the film, like recent efforts from ASOS and Only, but the format makes for a more natural viewing experience.

Mr. Gensch says that the branded content campaign is just one channel of Target's comprehensive fall campaign, which also includes a gorgeous, stylish spot created out of Partners & Spade and directed by Patrick Daughters that takes a more artsy approach to showcasing the retailer's wares.

As to whether the e-commerce aspect will continue to be part of its future marketing efforts, Mr. Gensch said, "We're really excited to be adding this to our experiences we've created as a marketer, but there is no flight path to continue to build out branded content in this way," he said. " One of the exciting things about the Target brand is that we're continually surprising and delighting guests with the stories we're telling, so we're really just following what guests tell us they want and what's relevant to them today."

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