Target misses the Bullseye

All we want for Christmas is an end to stealth marketing.

Target has been a focus of ethical scrutiny in classrooms, the blogosphere and on the front page of the Star Tribune for using questionable marketing tactics geared toward college students. Target’s dirty laundry was aired when a University of Georgia student called foul on directions she received in a newsletter to keep her paid affiliation with Target “like a secret” when promoting Target’s products and promotions online in “Target’s rockin’ Facebook group.”

The student was part of a social marketing network called “Target Rounders,” which gives college students monetary and product incentives to be a living, breathing advertisement for the company. Their mission, according to the original newsletter: try not to let on in the Facebook group that they are Rounders.

These practices are a form of stealth marketing and are an ethical minefield. In this case, Target has been blown to shreds.

With the insurgence of blogs, online community boards and social groups, companies have a vast new marketing landscape to exploit. They pay individuals to infiltrate these online communities to write, promote and create buzz about their products. Companies aim to create brand loyalty by using people to endorse products as ideas, lifestyles and attitudes. The problem is that sometimes, as in the case with Target, these people don’t disclose the fact that they are being paid by the company for their services.

Although blogs should be taken for what they are – a random person writing about a topic of their choice – companies should not be posing as bystanders when clearly advertising their product.

Consumers have the right to know what is being marketed to them and who is doing the marketing.

Target claims that they had no knowledge of the questionable newsletter guidelines, as they hired an outside company to oversee the Rounders program. However, an entity paid by Target is their responsibility. We would expect that a company such as Target, which prides itself on corporate responsibility, would hold itself to higher standards than some cheap marketing scheme. Or then again, maybe that’s just asking too much these days.