Inside the Mix

Target's NY 'room' effort makes its products' aspirational attributes get lost in the crowd

Target's NY 'room' effort makes its products' aspirational attributes get lost in the crowd

While many New Yorkers gripe about the onslaught of big-box retailers in their city and that 23rd Street is turning into a strip mall, the fact that there isn't a Target in Manhattan while there are two - yes, two - Kmarts is one of life's injustices.

Even with a couple of new stores recently opened in neighboring boroughs making the trip easier than before, it still takes the best part of a Saturday to reach one and culminates in a nerve-fraying journey either hauling bulky bags through subway interchanges or an expensive taxi ride.

Target knows how Manhattanites yearn for it so, and it occasionally throws us a Todd Oldham-striped bone. A capsule store at Rockefeller Center selling its Isaac Mizrahi line, a boat on the Hudson River at Christmas time, plus the giant billboard ad in Times Square that has led many people to think there was actually a full-size store opening there all increase awareness of the Target brand and make even the most embattled among us - those who've stood on a narrow subway platform with a 10-foot curtain rod and a 24-pack of Bounty paper towels - forget the pain and go back.

The retailer's latest branding exercise this month in New York was a no-holds-barred push to remind people of the cool household adornments and affordable design it has become known for. Prefabricated "room" structures sprung up on a vacant street corner in SoHo, all decorated in different designs, using all Target products.

The arrival a good bit of buzz, and it really was a great idea. But the execution certainly created itself drew a fair amount of criticism, particularly among a number of influential - but not overly aspirational or exclusive - blogs that focus on the way New Yorkers live in their (typically) small spaces.

To be fair, some of the criticism was directed toward an incident in which no one told the VIP guests at the launch party until it was too late that the "bathroom" was for show only, and the toilet wasn't actually operational. But there was definitely a sense that some thought the rooms were just kind of tacky.

This could, of course, be put down to general snarkiness, but it does actually highlight an important trait of many urbanites, and that's that few of them want to be sold a complete package, to have either a look or an experience prescribed to them. That's evident in Manhattan, especially in the comparatively small number of fashion and home-store chains in the city, and the small number of chain restaurants. So, while Target has some fantastically cool stuff to pick out and put in the perfect place in your eclectic apartment, a room full of all-Target things is just as contrived as a room full of any designer's products. A single Target product becomes more aspirational, a must-have for amateur home designers, when it's, say, in a home design spread surrounded by other products (many more expensive), rather than when it's being crowded by other matching bargain design products.

The effort no doubt got some Manhattanites out to the stores, even if they hadn't actually been to the event site. But what Target will always face here is that most of us, no matter how unrealistic this might be, would rather Target had put the money toward real estate on the island.

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