The Spot: Target’s Short Stories

Wieden + Kennedy crafts a huge mosaic of slice-of-life commercials, 15 seconds and one product at a time

GENESIS: Target wanted to highlight its wide variety of products through charming slice-of-life stories about when its customers need them the most. Wieden + Kennedy went with 15-second spots instead of :30s, so it could tell more stories and have each one elegantly focused on a single product.

The structure: nine seconds of plot; a one-second reveal (with a ding sound, like a lightbulb going off) when a product resolves the tension; and five seconds of outtro music, as the bull's-eye logo swipes over a pair of taglines, "Life's a moving target" and "Expect more. Pay less."

The agency has done more than 125 spots since last May—a mosaic of plots, products, songs, and styles in a reductivist construct that's hard to keep fresh. "What looks like a formula is not a formula," says Will Setliff, Target's vp of marketing. "It is so not simple to come up with simplicity."

COPYWRITING: Many teams work on the scripts, seeking witty insights that feel observed, not manufactured. "It's not that hard to do a good one, but it is very hard to do an excellent one," says Wieden creative director Rob Thompson. "The trap everyone can fall into is solving the riddle: A plus B equals C, yay, I solved it."

Done right, the reveal is a delightful surprise—and the viewer, having been called on to puzzle it out, feels complicit in that joy.

Three of the agency's favorite spots achieve that in different ways.

In "Crying Milk," a girl dabs milk on the rim of her glass, and it falls like a tear. "Don't cry, milk. I miss them too," she says. (Ding! Oreo cookies.) In "Questions," a wife thinks she has food poisoning, but her husband, who had the same dinner, is fine. (Ding! First Response pregnancy test.) In "Neighborhood," a whole cast of characters tries to coax a cat out of a tree. (Ding! Fancy Feast.)

"It can't be too obvious that you see it coming, or so cryptic that you never get it," says Wieden creative director Chris Mitton.

The campaign began with several Lost tie-ins during the ABC show's series finale in May 2010, and has included a number of seasonal-specific spots, too.

ART DIRECTION: The ads stay within Target's aspirational visual language, but with enough variety that they don't get stale.

"It's a more composed, more thoughtful, little bit brighter version of life. This isn't verité," says Thompson. "But we don't want it too composed and too much of a visual equation, just as we don't want it to be a joke equation."

FILMING: The agency has used eight directors so far—Wayne McClammy, Patrick Daughters, Kinga Burza, Jack Bender, Aaron Ruell, Renny Maslow, and the team of Phil Morrison and Joe Ventura—and shot in Southern California and Hawaii.

The next director might shoot in New York and try handheld camerawork—which could lend an even more observed feel, as long as it maintains Target's traditionally elegant sense of composition.

TALENT: The actors play customers of all ages and demographics. They need to make an impression in seconds while playing things honestly and subtly. "It's a lean-forward kind of approach," says Mitton. "They have to really draw you in."

SOUND: The agency licensed dozens of tracks for the outtro music, many from the '80s. "That felt relevant to the target—people in their 30s and 40s, women in particular," says Thompson. "There's not just a nostalgia but a warmth there. It reminds them of their high school days in a cute, funny, irreverent way." The agency hopes to introduce more unknown current artists in future spots.

MEDIA: The spots run on national broadcast and cable, then online. Where possible, two spots run in the same pod, ideally bookending it. Setliff says all the metrics are up, and viewers are engaging sooner with each new spot.

"They know there's a story to come," he says. "It's become a page-turning mentality. What's the next story? What's the next page?"

THE SPOTS: The three ads described above are posted below, along with creative credits for each one. Click here to see 121 more spots from the campaign.

CREDITS:

Client: Target

Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

"Crying Milk"

Creative Directors: Guy Seese/Kathy Hepinstall

Copywriter: Darcie Burrell

Art Director: Ely Kim

Producer: Hayley Goggin

Account Team: Ellen Kong/Bryan Tilson

Executive Creative Directors: Mark Fitzloff/Susan Hoffman

Agency Executive Producer: Ben Grylewicz

Production Company: Epoch Inc.

Directors: Phil Morrison/Joe Ventura

Executive Producer: Lisa Margulis

Line Producer: Timory King

Director of Photography: Peter Donahue

Editorial Company: Joint

Editor: Katie Turinski

Assistant Editor: Steve Sprinkel

Post Producer: Terra Cloyes

Post Executive Producer: Patty Brebner

VFX Company: Mission Control

Flame Artist: Mike Quinn

VFX Producer: Terry Kirk

Titles/Graphics: Brand New School

Sound Designer: Loren Silber

Song: "Let's Go" by the Cars

Mix Company: Lime

Mixer: Loren Silber

Producer: Jessica Locke

"Questions"

Creative Directors: Don Shelford/Rob Thompson

Copywriter: Casey Hall

Art Director: Brad Trost

Producer: Jenifer Fiske

Account Team: Rachel Parker/Bryan Tilson/Matt Berry

Executive Creative Directors: Mark Fitzloff/Susan Hoffman

Agency Executive Producer: Ben Grylewicz

Production Company: Smuggler

Director: Renny Maslow

Line Producer: Rhonda Vernet

Director of Photography: Renny Maslow

Editorial Company: Joint

Editor: Katie Turinski 

Post Producer: Terra Cloyes

Post Executive Producer: Patty Brebner

VFX Company: A52

VFX Supervisor: Megan Meloth

Flame Artist: Paul Yacono

VFX Producer: Megan Meloth (EP Jennifer Sofio Hall)

Music+Sound Company: Brand New School

Mix Company: Lime Studios

Mixer: Loren SIlber

Producer: Jessica Locke

"Neighborhood"

Creative Directors: Chris Mitton/Guy Seese

Business Manger: Maureen Doyle

Copywriter: Casey Hall

Art Director: Beth Fujiura

Producer: Jennifer Fiske

Associate Producer: Jennifer Hundis

Account Team: Rachel Parker/Bryan Tilson/Kara York

Executive Creative Directors: Mark Fitzloff/Susan Hoffman

Agency Executive Producer: Ben Grylewicz

Production Company: Biscuit

Director: Aaron Ruell

Executive Producer: Holly Vega

Line Producer: Karen O'Brien

Director of Photography: Peter Donahue

Editorial Company: Joint Editorial

Editor: Matthew Hilber

Post Producer: Terra Cloyes

VFX Company: A52

Flame Artist: Paul Yacono

VFX Producer: Megan Meloth

Titles/Graphics: Brand New School

Song: "XEL018_03 On Your Bike"

Mix Company: Lime

Mixer: Joel Waters

Click through to see 121 more spots from the campaign.