Grand Ex Award: How Target Became the Big Brand on Campus – Event Marketer

Grand Ex Award: How Target Became the Big Brand on Campus – Event Marketer

Grand Ex Award: How Target Became the Big Brand on Campus

Bullseye University Live: This Year’s Grand Ex Award Winner


Over the last few years, no retailer has embraced experiential marketing like Target.

The company has wired live experiences throughout the entire marketing mix, threading engagement into everything it does. From sponsorships and grassroots marketing to guerrilla efforts and beyond, the programs are simultaneously national and local, in-store and out—and amplified online and offline.

It’s always about big ideas, big activations and big results. “If it’s not remarkable, it will be invisible,” says Dan Griffis, the company’s vp-experiential marketing and alliances. And there’s a science to it all. Engage the consumer the right way and you make a connection. If it’s the right connection with the right consumer, you can generate a conversion—effectively turning that consumer into a Target shopper. For today, tomorrow, forever.

Like your brand, Target markets to different channels of consumers during different months. But over the last five years, the retail giant has continued to throttle more focus—and more experiential marketing dollars—on the fickle, elusive, distracted and all-important college student.



The program incorporated social media, pop-ups, content and a drive to retail.

The college market is huge, for a number of reasons. Since lifetime shopping preferences are imprinted early, it’s becoming more critical to connect with consumers earlier, and more frequently. As a shopper segment, college students are both style-focused and budget-minded, perfect for Target’s overall wheelhouse. They’re also incredibly connected to digital and mobile devices—the perfect shoppers. And from a seasonal revenue opportunity, college kids make up a hefty chunk of back-to-school-related purchases.

And so with the goal of amping up efforts to connect with the college collective, Target and Los Angeles-based Deutsch began brainstorming ideas very early last year for a back-to-school program that would make connections, increase affinity and drive sales. But many millennials still thought of Target as the place their moms shopped. Which meant that in order to change their perception, Target would need to change their behavior.

And indeed they did, with last summer’s Bullseye University Live, a 360-degree experiential campaign that connected with both masses and individuals online and on the ground—it was part reality show, part digital experiment and total marketing genius, a textbook case in integrated marketing that incorporated social media, pop-ups, content and a drive to retail that left no stone unturned in the quest to get college students tuned in to Target during the $80+ billion back-to-school shopping season.

“While we know students are increasingly relying on digital experiences, we also know that they crave interaction and remember more from a physical experience than they do from just reading or hearing something.”
—Dan Griffis, VP-Experiential Marketing and Alliances, Target

It began with a national experiential effort that eventually went hyperlocal. A multi-story Bullseye University dormitory experience was designed, built and set up on the UCLA campus in July. Once each room was “curated” with Target décor and merchandise, five of YouTube’s most popular video personalities (Chester See, Tessa Violet, Magic of Rahat, Brooke “Dodger” Leigh and Jenn Im) moved in. Together, the “roommates” had five million followers. Target live-streamed their antics 24 hours a day on as they whiled away the four days in those dorm rooms filled floor-to-ceiling with Target merchandise. The digital denizens interacted with followers across social media and hyped the goods inside their rooms. The best part: By scrolling over the products, online viewers activated pop-up boxes with additional information and links to instantly purchase them.



A multi-story Bullseye University dormitory experience was designed and built on the UCLA campus.

The anchor of the structure was The Lounge (the bottom level ), which was taken over by a different brand—Ben & Jerry’s, Zip Car, Champion, Beats by Dr. Dre—each day. Each hour of each day was programmed with “socially fueled” content (such as a workout class or magic show) that kept college student viewers coming back to watch… and shop. Over the four days, college students across the country tuned in for an average of 11 minutes and 33 seconds. The activation generated 76 million Twitter impressions.

A month later, the national experience went hyperlocal. To sustain the message that Target was the one-stop shop for back-to-college essentials, two-day Bullseye University Live pop-ups were set up during “move-in week” at five campuses (Texas A&M, Auburn University, Georgia State University, George Mason University and UCLA).

It was a real-world extension of the interactive digital experience college students were first introduced to via the streaming event. To best showcase the back-to-college products and practical dorm room solutions Target provided, a dorm room “resident” ate, lived and played in the structure for 48 hours while thousands of students on each campus came by. A key focal point of the dorm room was a 70-inch, motion-sensor touch screen that allowed students to play games and interact with the dorm room.( It also included a moderated Twitter feed.)

At each campus, the two-day program featured activities and content tied to Target in-house-owned brands (Market Pantry and Up & Up) and 10 brand partners including SC Johnson, Wrigley’s, Maybelline, Sally Hansen, Coca-Cola, BIC and Pepperidge Farms.

Programmed as if it were a live television channel, each hour had a different brand activating in a new way. “The goal was to create an experience that was cool enough to get students to lift their heads from their phones,” says Daniel Chu, the Deutsch experiential team’s executive vp and creative director.

Interactive trivia with 5Gum on the touch screen allowed students the chance to win a sample of the product. A Pictionary contest by Windex Touchups allowed students to work in teams to play, then use the product to clean off the whiteboard after each round. Sally Hansen instant nail strips were used in complimentary manicures for students. The dorm “resident” served as the emcee of events, encouraging students to engage in the hourly activities.



Target integrated each school’s colors and traditions to truly make the Dorm Room a part of campus life.

The dorm room itself was filled with the season’s best trends in room décor and all the essentials college students needed. Students could check out the items in the dorm room and then visit a QR code shopping wall on the side of the Live Dorm Room to scan and purchase items directly from their phones.

And if students needed to grab their last-minute item immediately, the retailer had shuttle buses running students back and forth to the nearest Target store. On some campuses, the kids could even purchase products on-site. At each touch point, students were reminded that all of the essentials they need could all be found in one place: Target.

“Having a live element was incredibly important to the success of the program,” says Griffis. “While we know students are increasingly relying on digital experiences, we also know that they crave interaction and remember more from a physical experience than they do from just reading or hearing something. The combination of a more traditional, live event experience with a digital experience is what made this program a success.”

Target integrated each school’s colors and traditions to truly make the Dorm Room a part of campus life. From the “Howdy” at Texas A&M to the Tiger Walk at Auburn, school spirit was integrated into the experience. Each day, the dorm room’s décor was changed to feature a boys’ and girls’ room, to allow students to see the variety of merchandise available at Target. “We took the digital experience and brought it to life,” says Chu. “And we designed the entire campaign to be shareable.”

In under one month, the Bullseye University Live Dorm Room reached 144,000 students and parents at the five colleges, pushing engagement to the next level, generating real-time sales and changing both perception and behavior. The social media activity continues to live on, and Target’s share of the college market continues to grow. Using a digital experience to trigger a live engagement worked wonders, allowing Target to reach the masses when they were thinking about going back to school and then the individuals when they got on campus. Every touch point was not only relevant, but branded.

“Experiential marketing has been an important part of Target’s marketing mix for a long time,” says Griffis. “By reaching our guests directly, we can help spark conversation and engagement—and ultimately create brand advocacy.”

All told, it was an EX-emplary effort.


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