Friday, April 12, 2013

Target’s Manatee Marketing Lesson

When Susan Clemons was searching, she found a grey, plus-sized dress. The grey color was described as “Manatee Grey." A manatee is a big, rather large and shapeless sea animal also known as a sea cow.

Ms. Clemons took offense and tweeted Target "What the Plus sized women get "Manatee Grey" while standard sizes are "Dark Heather Grey." @Target #notbuyingit

Target promptly issued an apology and tweeted that it was looking into fixing the misunderstanding.

Target employees posted on the store's Twitter page: "We apologize for this unintentional oversight and never intend to offend our guests. We've heard you, and we're working to fix it ASAP,"

In the end, Target decided to remove the offensive description. The garment in both regular and plus size versions is now labeled as "Dark Heather Grey."

What does this case teach marketing professionals?

Be careful with your product descriptions
When describing a feature or a color, keep it positive. Try to use words that are neutral but still appeal to (potential) customers. In this case, a physical description such as “dove grey” or “anthracite grey” could have worked. If not, you can always use poetic ones such as “magical grey” or “kissing stone gray”.

If I would have been the copywriter for Target, I would have gone for “Dolphin Grey”. It’s not only the same shade of grey as manatee, but playful dolphins are universally loved (thanks to Flipper et al). My other option would have been “pearl grey”, since  associations with (semi)precious stones are always appealing to buyers – just think of jet black, jade green, turquoise blue!

React quickly in case of crisis
Target did a great job by immediately tweeting back and apologizing. Instead of hiding behind excuses, Target apologized and fixed the problem. They followed the golden rule of crisis management: apologize (mea culpa), quickly fix, and communicate.

Use the correct social media to communicate
Target obviously uses and monitors social media to communicate with its (potential) customers. Once the complaint was tweeted, it also used Twitter to respond.
In this social media age, it’s essential to monitor what is written about you as a company in (near) real time and react accordingly. For B2B enterprises, other social media than Twitter would be more appropriate.

All in all, Target got a lot of free publicity and handled the incident in a elegant way. All in all, the media put Target in a positive light. Some even pointed out that the customer was suffering from hypersensitivity.

Personally, as a marketing professional and lawyer, I am puzzled. I don’t understand how a company such as Target (which should be mucho PC) allowed its copywriters to hammer out product descriptions like this. Furthermore, it is also very strange that its legal department did not object to the description (sua culpa!). They are lucky that the customer did not sue for mental distress!

All in all, being PC in marketing is a grey area, isn’t it

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