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Students Bring Big Thinking and Extraordinary Solutions to the Marketing Ideation Program

Target’s Marketing Ideation Program gives students across the country a hands-on virtual opportunity to engage with Target’s best-in-class marketing teams and leaders while gaining practical skills and experience—plus it’s a resume-builder like no other. This program also provides a unique opportunity for participants to impact more than 30 million Target guests with their original ideas.

Participants in this inaugural program were presented with two business cases: 1.) How could Target increase relevance among Gen Z males through marketing, and/or 2.) How would you (re)design a piece of marketing at Target to ensure an even stronger sense of inclusion for all?

A company-wide cross-functional team reviewed the entries and looked for: clear articulation and illustration of the idea, creativity and original thinking, strength of the strategic idea, the impact on the guests we serve and communities we operate in, and the solution’s ability to be executed, both physically and digitally.

The winning submissions explored a popular pastime among Gen Z males that means more to them than a mere hobby, and a new kids’ clothing experience that recognizes who they are and who they want to be.

We connected with the winners, Penn State senior duo Michael and Ashley, and Alicyn, a senior at Michigan State University, to speak with them about their solutions, what inspired them, the parts of the experience that they enjoyed most, and how marketing can truly foster inclusion.

First, tell us a bit about yourself and why you chose to participate in the Target Marketing Ideation Program.

Michael (Business Case 1 Winner): I’m a senior at Penn State majoring in finance with a minor in psychology. At the same time, I’m heavily invested in the marketing curriculum as a teaching assistant for a principles of marketing course, as well as a branding and advertising practicum course.

Outside of class, I lead one of our business school’s two marketing organizations, Penn State Prime. It’s a student marketing organization focused on branding, advertising and consumer insights. One fun fact about me is that I did a year-long project on Target in eighth grade and received a letter from former CMO Michael Francis. Participating in the inaugural Target Marketing Ideation Program seemed like a natural extension of my long-held admiration for the fun, hip and colorful Target brand—paired with my background and interest in marketing.

Ashley (Business Case 1 Winner): I am a senior marketing major at Penn State University. I decided to participate in this challenge because I enjoy solving marketing challenges and wanted to use the skills that I’ve learned in my courses over the past four years. I am Vice President of Penn State Prime, and Michael and I have already been working together through Prime over the past year, so I knew that if we collaborated, we would be able to develop a strong marketing plan. Target’s Marketing Ideation Program greatly aligns with my aspirations to get real-world experience from one of the best brands in the world. I am also relocating for a brand marketing job after college, and thought that the Target gift card would be great to fill my new apartment with furniture and kitchen supplies.

Alicyn (Business Case 2 Winner): I am a senior at Michigan State University studying Advertising Management with a minor in Advertising Analytics. One day, I was scrolling through LinkedIn and came across the link about the Marketing Ideation Program. Once I read business case #2, I knew that I wanted to compete.

What were the key components of your marketing solution, and what is the key takeaway for Target?

Michael & Ashley: We took on the task of identifying a way for Target to increase relevance among Gen Z males through marketing. Through our research, we discovered that Gen Z males are very involved in electronics, and more specifically, gaming, with favorite brands such as PlayStation, Nintendo, Xbox and Sony. We also realized that a large percentage of this generation believes that gaming isn’t just a hobby, but a part of their individual personal identities.

From these insights, we created an experiential marketing campaign to revamp Target’s electronics department called the “Winners’ Circle.” Our proposed activations included advertising through gaming influencers, competitive gaming sponsorships, Target exclusive in-game content and merchandise, an interactive in-store gaming space where friends could try out games and foster community, and the use of influencers for curated collections and in-app video review content.

Alicyn: My solution to designing a piece of marketing that would increase inclusivity was two pronged. First, the actual pieces of marketing would show children dressed in what society considers the “opposite” gender’s clothing. The second part was a redesigned children’s section which would only be broken up by size instead of gender.

There are now more studies on children’s gender development that show this behavior of wanting to wear the “opposite” gender’s clothing is completely normal and only constrained by our societal expectations that are pushed onto children from a young age. The key takeaway of this proposal was that we should not only be encouraging children to do and wear what makes them happy, but also embrace them expressing who they are in the moment.

What did you most enjoy about the business case, format, incentives or other aspects of the inaugural program?

Michael: As a finance major, one of my favorite things is collecting and analyzing data. For this project, I enjoyed visiting different Target stores and observing how actual customers interact with the various departments and product offerings. Many of these ethnographic observations helped to inform our ultimate activation strategies.

Ashley: I loved how open-ended the question was. It allowed me to do my own research and build my own insights without feeling restricted. Our solution was probably way different from any other groups, and I liked that aspect the most.

Alicyn: My favorite part of participating in the inaugural program was that there was little direction. In school, we are always given outlines, rubrics, etc. This case allowed me to become more comfortable with not having a strict list of expectations. I was simply asked a question and presented my solution in a way that worked for me. 

What role do brands play in ensuring a sense of inclusion for all?

Michael & Ashley: We believe that brands play a critical role in ensuring inclusion. Today, it’s not an option for brands to decide whether or not to be inclusive—it’s expected. Brands that choose to pioneer new ways to be more inclusive are the ones that will prove to be sustainable, and the ones that aren’t will eventually lose relevance and respect from consumers.

Alicyn: Considering brands are everywhere in our lives, I feel that their role in inclusion is extremely important. Brands that use their platforms and voice to support inclusivity are leading with a strong example of making all feel welcome.

Here, we talked with program judges Mary Beth George, LeAnna Pierson and Michael Abata, on the many impressive submissions received, the evolution of the program, and how it gives Target the benefit of fresh insights and inspiration while providing a new way to engage and invest in talented students that will become future of marketing.

What did you find most interesting or surprising or interesting submissions?

Mary Beth: I was incredibly impressed by the quality of the submissions—from the data gathered, to the synthesis of the data, and a strong understanding of our guest.

LeAnna: For both business cases, I thought it was really interesting that there was a core theme that emerged. There was definitely consistency in the passion for each set of guests. I was also really impressed with the quality and time dedicated by the students to provide thoughtful and insightful ideas for Target.

Michael: I was so impressed by the thought and energy that went into every submission, and I was inspired by the ideas. 

What do you hope the students gained from this program? 

Mary Beth: My hope is the students gained a positive learning experience with the Target brand. I hope they learned more about our guest and how we approach problem solving.

LeAnna: I hope that students saw the type of topics that Target marketing thinks about on a daily basis, and how that can help them better understand future careers. I also hope they had fun looking at a new problem and working with Target.

Michael: I hope this gave students real-life examples of marketing business challenges facing brands today.

How do you envision this program evolving?

Mary Beth: My hope for the program is that we can further expand our reach to more students, and give them more touchpoints with the Target brand.

LeAnna: Now that we know more, I’d love to see our questions and business challenges evolve to keep it salient for students. I’d also love to see how we can refine our efforts to continue to increase participation.

Michael: It would be amazing to bring this competition to recruiting events so we can ideate in real time.

How do these ideas demonstrate the value that Target places on guest insights, and how does this program provide a unique path for capturing them?

Mary Beth: We are only able to bring a very select number of students into our marketing associate and intern programs every year. The benefit of this program is that we have the ability to establish a connection with a broader base of students across the country. We can learn from them, and establish a positive interaction with our brand.

LeAnna: This program was so fun to be a part of. I loved seeing the fresh thinking and new approach to problem solving. These students gave us a new perspective and insights.

Michael: We love having the opportunity to hear unique perspectives from college students. This program provides Target the opportunity to better understand what’s important to students, and how we might adapt our marketing effort to better serve their needs. 

Curious about a career at Target? Hear from a few of our past interns and recruiters, or explore opportunities near you at target.com/careers.

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