#AlexFromTarget: Masterful Marketing or One-Hit Viral?

Alex from TargetFor anyone who may not be in on the “cute boy” social media scene, #AlexFromTarget is social media’s latest “it-boy.” The source of Alex’s stardom is an interesting tale, and Internet marketers should take note.

It all began with a simple tweet from Abbie (@ausalum) featuring a strapping young Target sales associate bagging items at a checkout stand. With his Bieber-like looks, Alex Lee was downright irresistible for young ladies. Then came in Breakr, an Internet based company that connects “fans with their fandom.” At this point, there is controversy over how much involvement Breakr truly had with the success of #AlexFromTarget as a trending social topic. According to Breakr, they recognized the photo posted by Abbie as a potential viral image, so they performed a social “experiment.” Breakr claims to have spread the image to their “fangirl” followers in order to create the trending hashtag #AlexFromTarget. The company then fueled the “fire by tweeting about it to [their] bigger YouTube influencers.” If that statement seems ambiguous, it’s because the company does not want to reveal their social secrets.

Within hours of the original post, the hashtag began to trend. The popularity of the topic was thanks to people supporting the image for its looks, as well as people complaining about its popularity just for the sake of Alex’s looks. Within a matter of a day, Alex was an Internet sensation, complete with parody images, memes, and YouTube videos. The next day, the news picked up the story of the 16-year-old Texan Target employee who became an Internet star within 24 hours.

You may be asking yourself, what did Target do during all of this brand-based social sharing? Target released a statement claiming no affiliation with Breakr, and to have “absolutely nothing to do with the creation, listing or distribution of the photo.” This statement of non-involvement is a safe move from Target, considering their sordid PR past. However, the brand needs to consider the social leverage available, and grab an opportunity for social advertising the moment they see it. The morning of November 3, Target did post a Tweet reading, “We heart Alex, too! #alexfromtarget.” Again, another safe move from Target, but at least they recognized the social activity and acknowledged it.

What about the helpless heartthrob whose picture is being circulated on social media? Well, Alex has reached 662K followers on Facebook, been to LA for news interviews, and even made his television debut on The Ellen Show. The TV spot on The Ellen Show had to have something to do with the fact that Target is a corporate sponsor of the show. Coincidence? We think not. Time will tell if Alex can leverage all of this attention, and turn it into a lasting social presence.

So what can we learn from the fast-paced stardom of one-hit-wonders in the form of Internet stars? First, it happens fast, really fast. Second, brands need to have social listening technology in place in order to get ahead of any trending topics associated with the brand. Whether the social activity is positive or negative, a brand needs to be aware of the conversation happening around their image. And three, brands need to take advantage of (the occasional) situations where their brand is organically shinning in a good light. Hopefully, Alex from Target will get a major holiday bonus this year, it’s the least Target could do in return for their free social advertising.

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