NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- "I just had a 20-minute conversation with a stranger about nipples," reads the copy in a yet-to-be-released Target ad, featuring a wide-eyed baby strapped to its dad. That ad and others like it will begin rolling out next year and signal a new approach for the mass retailer. Gone are the "idealistic" images featuring mom sweetly cuddling with baby, replaced with marketing that's meant to illustrate the chaos, humor and absurdness that are hallmarks of parenting.
"Before, we took a point of view that focused more on idealism, frankly," said Will Setliff, VP-marketing. "The original creative was appealing and showed really beautiful moments that people can relate to. And there can be moments like that. But it's not, I think, what makes up the bulk of parenthood."
Mr. Setliff, himself the father of two girls, ages 4 and 7, said Target began conducting research with parents about a year ago. In that research, it found room for its creative to be more irreverent and speak more directly to, not only Mom, but also Dad, grandparents and even siblings.
"We always look to evaluate how we're doing, how our guests are feeling about the work and how they're responding with their shopping behavior within the store," Mr. Setliff said. "Was there anything wrong with the business? No. But do we think the conditions in the world are changing, and we need to be more relevant and ensure we continue to be relevant? Yes."
Indeed, many marketers have struggled to reflect the changing face of Mom. Most marketers are still filling advertisements with young American mothers sporting wedding bands, even though plenty of today's moms were born and raised outside of the U.S., are in nontraditional marital situations and are in their 30s or 40s. Of the three print ads Target shared with Ad Age, none feature a Caucasian or a woman. Part of the reason for that is the retailer's "amplified" focus on the child in marketing messages. But Mr. Setliff also said the new marketing approach will be broader in its portrayal of parents.
"Target has consistently had an inclusive perspective, when it comes to casting age or ethnicity or anything else," Mr. Setliff said. "But when one reflects on the work, in the past, it was certainly way more focused on mom, specifically."
The baby segment is an important one for the retailer. And competition in the space is heating up with Amazon acquiring Diapers.com parent Quidsi in November. Target does not break out sales of specific categories, though it's generally accepted that parents shop more often and spend more than their child-free counterparts. Mr. Setliff said parents often experiment with different products and retailers, especially in the first few months after a birth. For that reason, he said, it's important to catch their attention and get the marketing message right.
To do that, the retailer is working with lead agency Wieden & Kennedy -- two of the creatives on the business are new parents, Mr. Setliff noted -- on a campaign that will break in February. There will be print and digital ads, as well as spots that run on Target 's in-store network and in 2,500 patient waiting rooms across the country. Target will also be the exclusive sponsor of a new gear column, launching on BabyCenter in February.
The retailer plans to drum up interest around its baby business with a New Year's Eve takeover of several billboards in Times Square. Dubbed the Big Baby Billboard, consumers can submit birth announcements via the Target Baby Facebook page, which will then be broadcast on the billboards between Dec. 31 and Jan. 6. Similarly, in Los Angeles, a 25- by 30-foot display at the Hollywood & Highland Center will feature the announcements from Jan. 1 through Jan. 5. Those announcements will be created by workers using letters reminiscent of refrigerator magnets every 10 to 15 minutes.
Mr. Setliff declined to comment on media spending for the 2011 effort or how it compares with years past, though he did say that the reach of this campaign would be broader. Target spends more than $1 billion on marketing annually, according to its annual report.