After a blogger, focusing on media & marketing's influence on kids, sent a mail to Target's Corp Communication dept voicing concerns about a series of offensive commercials, what she got back was this:
Good Morning Amy, 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.
I have another phrase for "have a nice day," which might as well have been substituted instead.
Case 2: Hasbro/Mattel
It's official. Hasbro and Mattel have pulled the ole cease 'n desist on Calcutta-based software developers Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla, for their wildly successful Facebook app, Scrabulous (I haven't played it, but I have sung it's praises - literally - to the tune of HSM2's Fabulous; esoteric I know, but sure to amuse a few readers)
Case 3: Ford (indirectly)
Initially Cafe Press pulls a calendar featuring a Mustang enthusiast groups' coveted (I added that in) Ford Mustangs, for fear of legal action from Ford. In a bold move, Ford's legal team had this to say:
"(the company) has no problem with (Ford) owners taking pictures of their vehicles for use in club materials like calendars…We do have an issue with … individuals using Ford’s logo and other trademarks for products they intend to sell."
[update: Todd Defren informs that the above Ford response actually came in the comment thread, which I'm not sure is a plus or a minus, given the response itself]
My 2c to add to this evolving conversation is likewise not to shoot from the hip (on this particular occasion), but instead to add what I hope will be an original perspective to the dialogue (I strongly recommend you follow all the links and pick up on the secondary links as well)
One of the first insights or parables into marketing that I was ever taught was that perception is reality. It often doesn't matter what the truth is but rather how it is perceived. If blogger telephone (a modern day representation of broken telephone) ends up riffing on a pesky fact, it can still be resolved before it snowballs out of proportion, if - and only if - a brand is plugged into the conversation. Otherwise, all bets are off.
Target aside (this isn't the first time they've demonstrated an abrasive customer-uncentric attitude - see pages 145-147 of Join the Conversation), I think that both Hasbro & Mattel and Ford (not unlike the entire music industry when it comes to the Long Tail archives of songs) missed out on a critical and pivotal insight: people are talking about them; they are in the conversation set (as opposed to consideration set).
What is needed here is the third pillar of Conversational Marketing: partnership. Instead of joining them, brands try to beat them (as opposed to "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em) and ultimately this just creates a lose-lose.
In both of these cases, an opportunistic lifeline is being handed to forgotten brands (the conversation already in progress) to join in.
And as for Target, I would take David Jones' advice for their PR people to read my book, which is featured in their bookstore (and in light of American Idol's speedwobble premier, amidst the writer's strike, perhaps they should double up on Life after the 30-second spot as well) and I would start with the cover of the book, which features roughly 600 of the 2,000 bloggers and if you look closely, you'll see an incredibly eclectic and diverse mix of Target (or ex-Target) customers.
With 70,000,000 (give or take 5,000,000 either way) blogs out there and recent Nielsen research indicating that Mommy blogs may have eroded up to as much as 10% of the coveted (there's that word again) 25-54 year old female morning broadcast TV audience, such a brazen attitude could come back to bite in the bulls-eye (the one where the sun don't shine)