Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Hero Curse

At a dinner I recently attended, featuring a handful of the industry’s top bloggers, the subject of Target’s awkward history with social media came up.

The disappointment in Target was such that within minutes, the conversation had moved on to what a conservative culture the Target company actually has, how the stores never really measure up to the hype, how the service is poor to non-existent etc etc.

It was breathtaking to see a brand that many in our industry admire, so suddenly tipped over.

It reminded me of the awful responsibility heroes have – the hero brands and individuals who inspire us to do better. Think of the ghastly fall of Marion Jones. Or the terrible wobbles that Nike suffered in the late nineties. These heroes were blessed with a seemingly endless supply of public goodwill. We were willing to imbue their everyday behaviors with some kind of magic, and we did it over and over again, through seasons and years.

But then, just one transgression breaks the spell, and we suddenly see only the warts. In the case of Nike, they never had to give back any gold medals, but they have never taken back the mantle of unassailability.

The truth is, Target has been a conservative, buttoned up company for a long time, the stores have always been a disconnect with the image, and when did Target ever have or even promise good service?

It suggests that the more successful an illusion (and heroes are illusions we are all eager to buy into), the more vulnerable it is to a single, piercing disappointment.

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