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Credit cardThe security breach that Target suffered recently affected every aspect of the retail chain’s business, from its personnel (i.e., a few people were fired) to its data storage practices. In a somewhat less obvious link, it also had notable effects on the way Target sought to market itself to wary customers.

Because Target failed to protect customers’ data sufficiently, those shoppers suffered a real crisis of confidence. In turn, many consumers have simply stayed away. Target’s marketing response is mainly focused on getting people through the doors of its stores. Instead of artful, esoteric commercials showing funny or quirky uses for various products, Target needs to convince people that it offers the best option for their shopping needs. For example, a new advertising campaign, entitled “Target Run,” presents a range of seemingly incongruous items that people can run into the store to grab, all in one place and conveniently at their local Target. Timed to coincide with March Madness for example, the version focused on an “it’s the tourney” run features cheese puffs, a basketball, and beer—just what a basketball fan needs before pals come over to catch a game.
In contrast, Target has pulled another marketing campaign that highlighted its social responsibility and ongoing contributions to the community. Faced with widespread consumer frustration and skepticism, Target realized that touting the good it does for society could easily backfire. A shopper whose data was hacked might regard such marketing communications as tone deaf, in that Target is claiming to do good, even as the consumer struggles with the damages caused to her or him by Target’s failure to protect her or his personal information.

Although in the immediate aftermath, Target also stopped prompting customers in stores to apply for one of its branded credit cards, it has since resumed the practice. This choice, and the marketing plan overall, was based on Target’s careful analysis of customer sentiment, which it actively gathers. Although most ratings of Target’s favorability have increased in response to Target’s efforts, they have not reached the same level they were before the data breach. Target still has some communicating to do.

Source: Natalie Zmuda, “Target’s CMO Navigates Marketing Post-Security Breach,” Advertising Age, March 14, 2014, http://adage.com