Lilly Pulitzer at Target: Epic Fail or Major Success? You decide.

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By Carlee Pett, Senior Account Executive, R&J Public Relations

When retail giant Target announced in January that it was collaborating with Lilly Pulitzer, a Palm Beach-based retailer known for its overly girly and colorful resort wear and chic beach clothing, Target customers and Lilly fans went wild, leading to an uptick in fashionista hysteria.

It’s not unusual for Target to engage in partnerships with designer clothing brands to offer a more affordable line for a limited time only. In the past, Target has released lines with Phillip Lim, Zac Posen, Prabal Gurung, Jason Wu and Missoni. It seems simple – those who know and love the brand are able to purchase items close to home at a more affordable price point, while other customers get to know the brand and chic lifestyle for the first time through these collaborative partnerships.

But it wasn’t all butterflies and rainbows for this collaboration. Consumers took to social media to share how they felt about it, and they were completely split on their opinions. Some were overjoyed, while others were disturbed that their cherished preppy brand would make itself available to the masses. Those against the ‘Lilly for Target’ line felt it didn’t align with the brand vision of Lilly Pulitzer. After all, Lilly dresses were worn by ladies of the Kennedy, Rockefeller and Vanderbilt families.

Carlee-Lilly for Target

The frenzy of mixed reactions continued following the collection’s launch on Sunday, April 19. Lilly items went live on at 3 a.m., resulting in a temporary website crash, with consumers unable to check out and purchase the items they had been waiting for.  Lines of people were wrapped around the building of several Target locations, only to have shelves cleared in just minutes in some stores.

Happy or unhappy about the partnership – one thing is true. Both companies received more PR than they have in a long time. Garnering massive press in news outlets, fashion blogs and social media prior to the collection’s launch on April 19, Target and Lilly Pulitzer built anticipation with television commercials featuring celebrities such as Chris Noth and Bella Thorne, an aggressive social media campaign, and a remarkable pop-up at Bryant Park in New York.

Some may see this as bad public relations for Lilly, considering the negative comments from some loyal buyers who either were unable to get their hands on merchandise or felt this partnership diminished the legacy of the brand. Some may also see this as bad PR for Target since its website and stores were completely wiped out in minutes without any plans to restock, after both companies had produced all of the hype. But others see this as a win. One thing we know for sure is that Target was strategic in finding a partnership that would cause Internet chatter and fuel demand. Despite the long lines and empty racks, a quick scan of social media, blogs and news sites will demonstrate that the marketing campaign to support this collaboration worked, perhaps a little too well.

In true PR fashion, top executives from Target issued an apology for failing to meet demand and expectations, while confirming that they will not be restocking their shelves. Shoppers may be upset now, but it shouldn’t have a long-term negative effect on either company, since it will only be a matter of time until Target announces its next partnership with another iconic brand.

What are your thoughts? Do you think the Target and Lilly Pulitzer collaboration was a fail or success?

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