September 29, 2022

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Settle Down, Blogosphere

Settle Down, Blogosphere

Did you ever watch “Beavis and Butthead?” Sure, it’s completely juvenile, foul, and offensive, but when I was 13 I tuned in weekly. My dad even took me to see the movie version when it came out (it’s actually a pretty hysterical film, even old Dad agreed, he loved when Butthead tried to hit on Chelsea Clinton by bonding over orthodontia).

Regardless, there’s a recurring joke in the series and the film that whenever Beavis ingests too many sweets, he turns into a twitching, babbling, hyperactive Mr. Hyde character called “Cornholio.” Cornholio is beyond worked up and completely paranoid, demanding of anyone who crosses his path, “are you threatening me?”  As the leader of the duo, idiotic Butthead is forced in these scenes to be the voice of reason, smacking Beavis down with a firm, “Settle down, Beavis.”

Believe it or not, I have a point.

Sometimes, I think the blogosphere eats too many sweet treats and starts freaking out Cornholio-style–including me. We all might just need a smack. Hey, it works on soaps, right?

Last night, while perusing blogs, I noticed a post about the recently unveiled Target ad in Times Square. The billboard features a young woman dressed for winter, seemingly performing a playful snow angel on the familiar Target bullseye logo. The problem? Her nether regions were positioned dead center in the bullseye.

Predictably, a couple feminist and family-oriented blogs got a little up in arms about it–prompting my first “settle down, blogosphere” thoughts about the issue. I respect the objectives of these blogs, and think violence against women is a serious issue, but I just can’t see that in this ad. Yes, I can see how some might read a little too much into this ad and view it as offensive to women. But I can count off at least a dozen other ways that women are debased and objectified in advertising and fashion magazines on a weekly basis that aren’t setting off a major blogstorm, so can we all just take a deep breath and focus on more important issues?

Which doesn’t include, unfortunately, Target’s idiotic response to a blogger complaint about the ad. Amy from the Shaping Youth blog called the Target PR team expressing her concerns in a message, and received the following canned (and did I mention idiotic?) reply:

Thank you for contacting Target; unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with non-traditional media outlets. This practice is in place to allow us to focus on publications that reach our core guest. Once again thank you for your interest, and have a nice day.

Good Morning Amy,


Target, really? To completely underestimate the ire of the blogosphere is a bush league move, to say nothing of the problem that “nontraditional” media has certainly become an important element in public relations. Not to mention, there are no-doubt plenty of shoppers who are the Target “core guest” and also participants in this space.

That being said…

Is this that big a deal? I turned to Twitter as soon as I read about their response, posting several angry Tweets in a row about the retailer’s stupidity, and declaring my intention for a full-fledged rant in this very space. This morning, my very wise colleague pointed out that hanging Target out to dry for one bad move was probably a bit hasty.

And he’s right. I started reconsidering my position after Jeremy Pepper’s post this morning pointing out how eager the blogosphere is to jump on every storm as gospel without hearing the issue out. To harp on this point beyond pointing out that it was a pretty silly move also seems a bit hypocritical.

Look at it this way–didn’t many of us cry foul after Chris Anderson posted the email addresses (along with an angry rant) of PR professionals who sent him press releases, pointing out that one wrong move didn’t warrant such a vitriolic response?

And didn’t Kami Huyse’s profile of former FEMA Director of External Affairs Pat Philbin reveal that there is usually a lot more to a public relations gaffe than meets the eye?

So let’s all settle down now, Beavises, and see if Target can redeem this error. I’m not saying it’s not worth mentioning, just that it might not be worth any Cornholio-style hysteria.

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    Larissa Fair

    I hope Target can redeem that error, I can’t believe that canned response was even written/considered. Obviously they are not listening to the community, or even learning anything from their Rounders incident, or from Wal-Mart’s many social media follies.
    Thanks for your insight, definitely enjoyed the B&B reference 🙂


    Without any prior discussion of the issue, I showed the ad photo to my husband and asked him what he thought of it. His response was that it was of course all about sex.
    I have no idea what Target’s strategic thinking was when they approved the ad for the campaign — maybe they screwed up, or maybe they wanted to make it about sex. We don’t know. Using sex to sell is a technique as old as advertising itself so even if Target is doing so, it’s not really all that surprising. And there’s plenty worse examples of sexist, degrading advertising out there to get upset about, if that’s what people want to do.
    IMO, what set off the blogstorm was the Target underling who was so rude in response to a blogger inquiry.

    Sarah Wurrey

    Larissa – Agreed; I think what we need to remember is that the changes we’d like to see these big companies make are going to come slowly. Of course WE are aware that companies should be learning from Wal-Mart’s “follies” (great word, btw), but not everyone is as vigilant and informed as us nerds! 🙂
    Lux – Yes, that was my thinking as well…I can see how it offended some folks but it wasn’t worth getting too worked up over. Target just made things exponentially worse with their response!

    Michael Allison

    hehehe, you said bullseye….
    From what I observe, companies seem very responsive when noise is made, even if it is a little shrill and irrational.
    I’m optimistic.
    I suppose there was a time when radio wasn’t considered traditional media. I can picture it: “You darn kids and your vacuum tubes and audio an’ sumsuch; what’s the world coming to?”

    Jen Zingsheim

    Wondering how long it will be before the “Core guest — I’m blogging this” t-shirts get printed.
    I’m solidly core audience; if this actually is their corporate response to bloggers, it needs to be re-examined.


    if anyone sees those t-shirts, let me know. I shop at Target all the time and would LOVE to wear one everytime I go in.
    I do agree about the extent of this kerfuffle, but in terms of measuring impact, I have to say that I’m NOT going to Target today, and I’d planned on doing a significant amount of shopping there today. Instead I’ll stay local and read more Tweets.

    Chip Griffin

    A few thoughts in no particular order.
    * I doubt that this episode will be even a blip on Target’s radar in a few days’ time (if it is even there now).
    * I don’t believe Target was rude to the blogger in question; if that’s the policy, that’s the policy. We certainly can argue the merits of that policy, of course.
    * Taking a deep breath is probably good advice for us all.
    * Pictures enable all of us to see whatever we want to see. It is more of a commentary on ourselves than on the creator of the ad. In this case, it requires quite a leap — there’s plenty of more overt stuff out there that goes unnoticed.
    * I don’t see any good reason why one should stop shopping at Target over either the incident or the response to the blogger. However, anyone who wants to do so is welcome to it, just so long as they realize they’re not punishing Target.

    Ontario Emperor

    Although I’ve posted about this, again echoing some of the comments from the blogosphere, it’s interesting to note that in my post in question, I alluded to the whole Ford – Mustang thingie.
    Subsequently I had to update and correct my Ford – Mustang information.
    When all is said and done, I may end up having to update my Target information on their policy toward bloggers. Hopefully.
    However, I may have an excuse for my behavior in this matter. While you were watching Beavis and Butt-Head as a 13 year old, I was watching (and enjoying) it as a thirty-something.

    Tim Wilson

    Is it at all possible that Target didn’t realize what they were doing with this? There are, basically, two elements of the ad:
    1. Target’s product — presumably, everything the model is wearing
    2. Target’s logo
    It’s not the Nike swoosh, but it’s hard to argue that Target has not been successful at associating the red bullseye with their brand. So much, as a matter of fact, that they can fiddle with it a bit and still have it be recognizable — show it at an angle, as a backdrop for a picture.
    Envisioning the creative session:
    “It’s winter. We have winter clothing for women. Everyone likes snow angels. Let’s do a picture of Pretty Person making a snow angel in clothes they bought from us!”
    “How would we make it clear that we’re advertising Target?”
    “Put the bullseye up in the corner of the snow. Or…better yet! Have the Pretty Person making a snow angel ON the bullseye. That’ll make the bullseye/Target a can’t miss!”
    “Sounds good. Let’s give it a shot!”
    I’m SURE that there are some people at Target (and the agency they used) kicking themselves over this. But, I’m inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt and say it was an honest mistake.
    Of course, their policy about nontraditional media is letting this get more out of hand than it need to. My benefit-of-the-doubt conjecture is as much pure speculation as those who have decided that Target is intentionally undermining the Christian Values on which This Great Nation was Built. Engaging the blogosphere — who has a ton of people in their core audience — wouldn’t be a bad idea.


    I believe the proper term to use in this situation is over-reading. When I first looked at this ad I didn’t notice anything that seemed inappropriate. I also showed the picture to a male colleague and he responded with, “Yeah, so?” To be honest, if you are really going to read so much into the ad, I must point out that her nether-regions are not actually centered…

    Sarah Wurrey

    Tim and Hillary – Agreed, I don’t think the ad was intended to be suggestive at all. People are reading way too much into it on that front.

    Lewis Green

    Can’t we just lighten up? People are dying of starvation and war, homelessness is out of control and the economy is struggling. Why the heck are we worried about a billboard in Times Square, a place I love but, by the way, a place which many in this country would find offensive, with or without the ad.
    Get a grip folks and prioritize what is important.

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