Three Ways Target Can Avoid a Black Friday Black Eye

November 22nd, 2011

You’ve probably heard about the mega-criticism that mega-retailer Target is facing over opening its stores for sales at midnight on Black Friday.  Judging from an online petition that’s collected nearly 200,000 signatures, and the torrent of negative comments on Target‘s Facebook page, the store is in serious need of immediate crisis PR strategies.

And what happens if Target misses its, er, target?  Well, the problem here is Target appearing tone deaf to the growing media narrative of corporate greed.  As Occupy Wall Street continues to gain more media attention, any high-profile company’s push for the bottom-line at the expense of workers (and perhaps American tradition) will almost certainly cause brand damage.

So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, which many claim Target has lost sight of, Praecere offers three basic points to help Target weather the storm:

Show the proof.  Despite the many helpings of criticism, Target insists shoppers actually want the store open at midnight.  If so, then prove it — put videos on social media feeds that show shoppers clamoring for the earlier store openings.  Transparency is still in corporate vogue, and if Target can’t prove that it’s truthfully yielding to strong customer demand, then its entire PR strategy will backfire.

Show the need.  Another claim Target makes in support of its midnight opening is that it’s necessary to remain competitive.  The problem here is perception: Target’s annual profits were nearly $3 billion in 2010, and it’s too easy for critics to seize on this single figure to paint the company as greedy, particularly on the eve of a holiday.  Target must provide better, easily palatable justification for the public to support this big time grab.

Show the CEO.  Nothing would resonate more than showing Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel working a cash register, sweeping floors, and assisting shoppers through the early Black Friday hours.  If the public sees Steinhafel sharing the same time and holiday sacrifice as all his employees, then the early opening might actually make a favorable impression.

Of course, the only way to measure brand impact is to total the holiday receipts.  Once those numbers are final, Target can assess whether it made a savvy business move.  But if it’s looking for a brand insurance policy, these simple steps might help prevent a full-on crisis PR fiasco.

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