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Case Study: Target Hits a Digital Back-to-College Bullseye


The back-to-school season is second only to Christmas in U.S. consumer spending. According to the National Retail Federation, the combined K-12 and college student retail spend will reach $74.5 billion this year. Specifically, college retail spending is on the upswing, up 41 percent from 2010 to 2013 according to Intuit Consumer Spending Index.

Retail giant, Target, seized the opportunity this summer with a back-to-college online and in-school campaign that includes social media, sweepstakes, interactive YouTube videos and mobile purchases. In fact, its “BullseyeU” program is so comprehensive, it seems to elevate shopping for college to the same level as wedding and baby shower registrations.

Both the challenge and opportunity came together this year for Target to grab the lead with a fully realized campaign that gives the highly desirable Millennials market – those born 1980 – 2000 – an integrated “experience” of its brand. Only in the past few years has social pressure been applied on parents to make their kid’s dorm room stylish as well as functional and this phenomenon may have occurred because of the products developed and advertised by Target and its competitors like Walmart and IKEA.

The Target campaign launched on July 13 with a four-day live interactive YouTube event where popular young YouTubing digital celebrities spent 90 hours “Big-Brother-Style” in Target-designed dorm rooms. Participants interacted by tweeting, clicking on items and automatically registering into the BulleyeU program. Registration gave the participants access to enter a sweepstakes with one click for 400 prize packs and gift cards.


The campaign also goes offline with “Live Dorm Rooms” at Georgia State, Texas A&M University, UCLA, Auburn and George Mason. There, students visit huge glass-walled dorm rooms furnished by Target, where young Target employees, enter them to win prizes or allow them to scan QR codes on products in the room and buy them on the spot.

Online, Target’s colorful landing page is the anchor of the program, because, beyond the experience, there are products to sell. Over 200 products were added this year to its brightly colored lineup of futons, coffeemakers, bedding, lamps and storage. A student can choose to the “create your space” function by searching products that are in their school’s colors or they can create a checklist, which is also tied to their mobile device. That checklist can be printed at home or at Target’s registry kiosk, or be shared on Facebook or sent to friends via their smartphone.

If a checklist isn’t needed, the “uStyler” tool provides several entire room designs with accompanying products to put in your virtual basket. These styles can then be posted on Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook, linked to a blog, emailed to parents or purchased.

And mobile purchases are also made easy. The college shopper and his or her parents are looking for a bargain and convenience and Target’s mobile app has scannable coupons available on iPhone, iPad and Android with a text function that activates when a sale begins. The coupon code scans from the mobile unit directly to the register. Rick Gomez, senior vice president, marketing at Target says that they are trying to accommodate students during a busy a stressful time of their lives.

What’s impressive is that, although this type of interactive program mirrors more complicated entertainment marketing, we’ve rarely seen it done in the retail space. And although no one element of the campaign is that impressive on its own, taken as an overall brand experience, this program succeeds by connecting college students to a brand they can grow up with.


Brought to you by Vertical Marketing Network, a Leading Integrated Marketing Agency.

Screen captures intended as illustrative examples only. Registered trademarks and logos are the property of their respective owners.

5 comments on “Case Study: Target Hits a Digital Back-to-College Bullseye

  1. Mark S
    August 26, 2013

    Target were smart to leverage ‘identity’ as a means of reaching their millennial audience through the YouTube celebrity college archetypes, school colors and ability to share products and check off lists through social networks, whilst highlighting the core values and identity of their own brand to appeal to both millennials and parents (particularly, parent’s bank accounts) in both their digital and traditional marketing efforts.


  2. karen
    August 26, 2013

    As usual, Target is one step ahead in their advertising. Sounds like a great integrated campaign and to the perfect target audience. Would like to see some of the online elements of the campaign, can you please share?


  3. dconte05
    August 22, 2013

    In-store branding can often fall short when there is a really strong experiential digital campaign. This was not the case with Target’s back to school campaign. The BTS in-store branding was executed through cohesive signage across many categories at the shelf level. A+.


  4. Philip
    August 21, 2013

    Digital innovation tied to event marketing and traditional communications. This campaign resonates with Millennials. Great job Target – You have a way of staying ahead of the pack.


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