Brainstorming a story idea (the mess of it)

Target CoutureEarlier today Elle and I got caught up in a Gmail chat about Target’s new haute couture offering. Elle was wondering how this could evolve into an essay and we incidentally held a brainstorming session. I thought it’s a great example of how story ideas can come about and decide to post it despite spelling errors and the like. Links were added later.

Elspeth: look at this. it’s bizarre. one more thing in the genre of “rich folk tryin’ to look po'”
me: or the other way around
Elspeth: nope. check out the prices. one of the makeup thingies is 900 bucks.
me: wow. jeans are 140.
Elspeth: yeah, exactly
me: it’s target begging for the upper middle class to shop there. that’s what it is
Elspeth: i don’t think it’s actually affiliated with target
me: oh, i just noticed that. then it’s even more lame
Elspeth: you see? how f’n weird is that? isn’t that over the line? i mean, distressed jeans, ok. “vintage” t-shirts, ok
me: target-chic, not ok
Elspeth: but whatever you call this? but, people who see you wearing that know it’s not really from target
me: but i don’t think they know. it’s like these people made clothes from all the new target ads
Elspeth: right.
me: it screams target because of the logo and because it looked to me as a logical progression of where the target brand seemed to be headed
Elspeth: ok, except target’s thing is “design for all.” aesthetic democracy. yet this is definitely, self-consciously, purposefully, not for all it’s like, “ha.”
me: target has okayed this

On May 11, 2006, Brand Central, a licensing company, will launch a new collection called Targèt Couture that focuses on Target’s red-and-white bullseye logo. The collection will initially be sold exclusively at Intuition specialty stores in California and will be launched at other specialty boutiques later this year.
– Target has authorized Brand Central to use its bullseye logo; designer interpretations of the logo will appear on each item in the collection.
– The collection includes designer pants, shirts, handbags, jewelry, and accessories; prices range from USD25 to USD3,000.
РThe Targ̬t Couture collection will be launched at an event hosted by Intuition at the LA Social Hollywood Club

Elspeth: hmmm. do you think it would be possible to pull an essay out of that? on, say, conservative culture minus jesus?
me: i don’t see it
Elspeth: btw, this is so cute.
me: it’s clever marketing. read this:

Target is hitting the high end. The mass retailer’s trademark red-and-white bulls eye is the focus of a new fashion collection called Targèt Couture, which will be launched by Brand Central and California-based specialty retailer Intuition this month.

“Target’s fantastic marketing and their association with fashion designers have made the iconic bulls eye design a symbol of cool,” said Ross Misher, chief executive officer of Brand Central.

Brand Central, a licensing and brand company, developed the program and asked Target for permission to use their trademark for the collection. Brand Central specializes in developing brand extension programs on behalf of its clients, which include Kellogg’s, The Weinstein Company, E! Entertainment Television and Mark Burnett Productions.

Elspeth: ok. so low culture for rich folk? sort of like the complete inverse of target with its “collections” created by famous designers?
me: i guess i don’t see target as low culture. it’s more of mass culture which now tried to make it into rich niches
Elspeth: mass is low and rich is high. high connotes exclusivity
me: to me this is more of an economic survical/branding story. big box retailer moves opens boutique on rodeo drive kinda deal.
Elspeth: you don’t think it says anything about the culture?
me: The median Target shopper is 41 years old, which is the youngest of all major discount retailers that Target competes directly against. The median household income of Target’s customer base is roughly $58,000 USD. Roughly eighty percent of Target customers are female, and about 43 percent have children at home. About eighty percent have attended college and 43 percent have completed college [from Wikipedia]
Elspeth: i mean, why would a big box retailer move to rodeo drive?
me: yes it does. but this is not wal-mart moving to rodeo drive. that’s why i don’t think you can make that jump from low to high.
Elspeth: they already make enough money
me: because of wal-mart
Elspeth: what? what do you mean, you can’t make that jump from low to high?
me: i mean you can’t say low culture to high culture when you talk target. it’s not that extreme of a change. plus, think of how you would react if you read that. i think it’s a great story that to survive in the wal-mart age, target is not trying to beat them in the cheap and crappy, but is moving in the opposite direction-better and more expensive
Elspeth: what do you mean it’s not that big a change????? a necklace at target is $9. these are $900.
me: i’m talking branding wise not in terms of price
Elspeth: nooooooooooooooooooooooooo. cheapness is the most important part of target’s brand identity and besides, people who buy $900 purses do not think of target the same way we do
me: it could an interesting thing to report
Elspeth: omg, there’s a hoodie with the bullseye and fleur de lis. wtf?
me: it’d be awesome to talk to people who are expert in brand perception and see why target thinks this will look “in character” to customers. it looks in character to me. it doesn’t look in character to you. That’s the story.
Elspeth: $200 hoodies are significant in the first place because they are what po’ folks wear and now with the symbol of where po’ folks shop. it’s like erasing poverty from american culture. this hoodie is what it looks like to be poor in America. see? there are no class divisions. everyone wears $200 hoodies
me: i think that would be a fascinating essay but i wouldn’t be comfortable writing that without reporting
Elspeth: yeah
me: you could pitch something like that: “is target consciously or unconsciously blurring class distinction?” and then report it to have some ammo to fire in the story
Elspeth: perhaps. is it in any way conservative? or liberal guilt or what?
me: that’s what reporting would tell you
Elspeth: hmmm.
me: it’s ultimately money
Elspeth: always. but that’s America.
me: target’s already been accused of racism and being anti-poor
Elspeth: [brb]
me: and both in the past couple of years

“We started recognizing about a year ago that influencers and trendsetters were proud to show off their Target product from the store, and the brand and the iconic bulls-eye had become such a fashion of cool from their fantastic advertising and what they’ve done with their stores,” said Misher. “We came up with the idea at Brand Central and approached Jaye Hersh, who immediately came on board as the designer and retail partner for the collection. Together we approached Target for the permission to use their marks to create high-end fashion items based on the iconic bulls-eye.”

The collection will launch at other specialty boutiques later in the year, he said. National marketing and advertising by Intuition are in the planning stages.

“Target is so hip and cool now and Intuition is the hip place to shop in Los Angeles,” said Hersh. “It’s a perfect fit to be able to have the iconic bulls-eye represented in hip clothing and accessories and to be able to launch the product here. I think it’s going to be huge.”

Elspeth: hmmm.
me: that’s from a story in “brandweek.” it’s a fascinating dichotomy.
me: Many people go there for the cheap alternatives. Some go there because it’s trendy to dress from mass-retail stores. The company sees itself as being upscale in relation to Wal-Mart and Kmart. And the advertising world is convinced Target is a brand that can play across the economic and social spectrum. That is one f’n brilliant story.
Elspeth: yeah it’s crazy. again, target got popular by appropriating luxury design and mass manufacturing it for the masses. and now target’s brand is being appropriated for luxury boutiques
me: awesome, huh?
Elspeth: and limited release, etc. yeah. but are there other examples of anything close to this that can round out the story?
me: It’s like this. You build your brand by endorsing quality, which in turn (and in time) will make your own brand say “quality.”
Elspeth: i mean, where else is there an example of this, except maybe in the luxe faux vintage candy brand tees?
me: it’s everywhere
Elspeth: but the money factor has to be in there
me: it’s creating automatic value by association
Elspeth: endorsing quality for cheap
me: david bowie endorsing clap your hands and say yeah
Elspeth: you owe me this, btw.
me: morrissey singing with arcade fire
Elspeth: hmmm… but cyhsy was never mass market. it’d be like bowie endorsing avril lavigne
me: yes. correct
Elspeth: AFTER she publicly misprnounced his name
me: no. it’d have to be almost reversed. like a punk cover of a classic that makes you a classic
Elspeth: which is then covered by the symphony
me: sid vicious covering frank Sinatra. and then sid vicious becoming boutique erchandise
Elspeth: cyhsy covering avril covering billie holiday. Right. well, he is. you can buy his mug on a $75 t shirt
me: if you associate yourself with something that’s been accepted as good, valuable etc, your own brand could be labeled like that
Elspeth: or PBR underwriting all things considered
me: that’s the closest example– because it has to be a partnership. designers saying yes target, make cheap versions of what we do and npr saying, yes pbr, we’ll take your money and then when pbr will say, let’s put out a beer flavor for the 150,000 and up
Elspeth: right
me: it will make sense in terms of evolution
Elspeth: i think there were some whisperings last summer about PBR targeting hispters
Elspeth: [i’m just thinking “outloud”, so we can develop this idea… cool?]
me: [without going too far, that’s what i didn’t like about art school confidential. to me there was not a link that enabled me to believe the narrative of the transition. i understand and believe why target is doing this.]
me: [if this was wrestling, the target storyline would be one flawlessly executed character change–there is a cause and effect to every little step] and they are believable
Elspeth: ok. Right. but i still want to concentrate on the class issues. i don’t want to anthropomorphize target. i want to paint it as a cartoon of some social phenomenon
me: ok. it’s valid question to ask where target stands when it comes to class and the awesomeness will be in the competing views you’ll get from customers, marketers and the company itself.
Elspeth: maybe i think of it as a lack of thinking? like target is subconsciously acting on the american id… or something?
me: it might look like a confused brand, but bluriness is what sells. what’s low? what’s high? the correct response is “be as confused as society and sell to all”
Elspeth: i mean, lots of scholarship has been done on “poverty chic.” that not just me being all senstive class warrior
me: what if today’s america (or maybe everywhere) faces a struggle for definition or a blurring of all class divisions. While some companies try to find the niche where they’ll work best, Target seems to not give a fuck and be a blurry company that has build a brand that not only allows but encourages social-class confusion. [i almost wrote a pitch here ]
Elspeth: hmmm. but i don’t see target so pure and beaming and utopian. i think it acknowledges class
me: i’m not saying they are doing it on purpose. that’s for the reporting to find out
Elspeth: hmmm. you know, the boutique in which this is being sold specializes in that mary kate and ashley version of hobo-chic
me: i don’t think you have to find out the answer in order to pitch the story if that’s what you are trying to do
Elspeth: true. i don’t know
me: not before writing it anyway
Elspeth: i have to have more to say than that this is weird
me: you do have more to say. you can put some hypothesis there and say you want to know what it’s like. and a good editor will help
Elspeth: hmm.
Elspeth: well, i’m going to think on it a bit.

2 Responses to “Brainstorming a story idea (the mess of it)”

  1. I have to side with the furness here. Target is definitely low culture. And I firmly believe the BrandCentral campaign is a very tongue-in-cheek homage to the “hipness” of Target.

    In the real world, folks have been calling it Targèt for decades. Making fun of themselves for shopping there (to benefit from cheap prices). It was a humorous way to pretend Target was really a high end Targèt.

    So, this campaign takes a previously existing pop culture joke about the crappiness of Target, then puts a large price tag on it.

    But who’s going to buy this stuff? “Rebellious” teenagers of the nouveau riche? ‘Look, I’m rich enough to make fun of you poor people and yet it’s kinda clever because MTV told me it was.’

    Will it work? Sure, there’s enough bubbleheads with cash to ring up a tidy profit. I give mad props to BrandCentral’s dashing creativity in new ways to pilfer value out of dried up culture. And a hat tip to Target for its willingness to make fun of itself as high culture when it *is* low culture all in the name of making a couple bucks… which may, in some ways, actually raise the brand up from the dredges a little on the scale of cultural value (ironically, probably the full purpose to make fun of the rich making fun of the poor like the webs we weave). Interesting business; the rubber band of brand.

    Reminds me of the monologue delivered when Joe Pesci’s character cracks in JFK. Who’s fucking who? Nobody knows.

    I wouldn’t be caught dead in that crap.

  2. I don’t know if this helps, but the girls who populate the message boards will go from talking about $200 jeans like Seven for Mankind or whatever and then talk about something they got at Target. They wear all of this together in outfits, I gather.

    It’s funny, because right before I read this, I bought some shoes at Target. $8. Check it out:

    One of the user comments on the shoes says she saw some “just like them” on a celebrity.

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