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Lo-res_RAK101003-SThere was a time, just a few years back, when Target seemed to pull back from its hip, clever approach to marketing. Faced with dwindling customers spending, the cooler alternative to one-stop shopping reduced its advertising budgets and, with it, its creative approach to branding. But the tides have shifted back again, as signaled most prominently by the reappearance of Target’s lovable, clever, canine mascot Bullseye.

The bull terrier sporting a Target logo over her eye never disappeared completely; her picture still graced a few gift cards. But today, that lovable mug is all over the place: interacting with the child actors who starred in Target’s pre-holiday television advertising blitz, making personal appearances at Target-sponsored events, and even being represented in in-store “Bullseye Playgrounds” that stock replicas of the dog in various forms.

Bullseye is, of course, not just one dog but many, each of whom rotates in and out of the function as required. But she is consistently a white bull terrier—the answer to one of the most popular dog-related questions on Google, as millions of people wonder, “What kind of dog is the Target mascot?” Google is not the only place people talk about Bullseye either. After Target placed small statues of the dog on benches outside about 1400 of its stores, the #TargetDog hashtag jumped in popularity on Instagram, mostly captioning selfies that shoppers take of themselves petting the plastic models.

Although Target has suffered some severe setbacks in recent years—including a $1.6 billion loss associated with its failed expansion into Canada (a challenge we discussed in a previous abstract)—it believes that its turnaround is well on its way. Accordingly, it spent nearly as much as Walmart on advertising last year, despite sales levels that are about one-quarter of its massive competitor’s. The majority of that advertising spending, approximately 60 percent, is devoted to digital advertising.

A much smaller percentage is devoted to Bullseye of course. But because she’s just big enough that she doesn’t fit in regular cabin seats, she flies first class when she need to get somewhere to make an appearance, and she has a specially designed tuxedo for special occasions. Target might be a low price retailer, but it knows that Bullseye is a high-class dog.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you associate Bullseye with Target? Is this association positive, negative, or neutral?
  2. Does Bullseye add value to the Target brand? How?

Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, “Target’s Dog Mascot Learns New Tricks in Marketing Blitz,” The New York Times, December 22, 2015.