Advertising, Feminism

What Happened to the Cheery Polka-Dots?

All right, Anger Management Kitteh has given me a special dispensation to lose my shit about this Target ad that’s apparently on a billboard in Times Square.

Because boy, nothing makes me think, “Hey, I want to go buy sheets, socks, and a blender at the same place” like A WOMAN SPREAD-EAGLED ON A TARGET WITH HER VAGINA AS THE BULLS-EYE.

Yes, I get that the crotch placement was necessary for the design to work. So my only real question is, WHO THE FUCK THOUGHT THIS DESIGN WAS A GOOD IDEA?

Dear Target ad team,

Here’s a friendly tip. When your corporate logo happens to be an image of something people traditionally aim for with knives, arrows, darts, or bullets? It’s just a touch inappropriate to splay a woman across that logo. Especially with her cooter in the big money spot.

Just saying.



P.S. Assuming that your “core guest” is not reached by “non-traditional media”? Is a really, really bad assumption. Really bad.

44 thoughts on “What Happened to the Cheery Polka-Dots?”

  1. OMG Kate, you literally have me LOL really hard. Your snark always cheers me up, which is exactly what I needed today. Thank you.

  2. Nice Target…nice. Arrows to the vagina. Just what I like to be thinking about when shopping.

    Amazing though that any national company would be so out of touch to think that “non-traditional media outlets” don’t reach their consumers.

  3. Donny Deutsch says, “There are no accidents in advertising.”

    I believe that.

    PS — Dammit, I still like Target despite this stupid ad.

  4. PS 2 – Where the hell else can you display a huge cooter in America besides Times Square? This is a retro-ad in homage to Times Square’s history. Kate, this is historic. Don’t you see????

  5. I’m not a model or anything, but I can’t help but think it would be a damn shame to succeed enough to be in a Times Square ad, only to have it be one that would result in extreme [and deserved!] mockery from all of my friends and loved ones.

  6. I’ve done enough design work to know about 6 different ways that could have worked without her crotch being dead center of the target like that.

    The second I saw the picture, before I even glanced at the text, I was struck by WTF?! The only way I would be more offended is if they had actually put the big red bullseye dot in the picture.

    Funny that just earlier today I was looking for websites where I could buy sweatshop-free merchandise and stop giving money to the big box stores that have taken over my lovely small town home. Just one more reason to feel good about it.

  7. If I’m trying to give Target the benefit of the doubt… she’s making a “snow target”?

    Naw, even if that was the plan, one look at the photos and someone, ANYONE should have said, “Um. Any other ideas then?”

  8. Naw, even if that was the plan, one look at the photos and someone, ANYONE should have said, “Um. Any other ideas then?”

    My thoughts exactly, javamama. I can see it being this great concept in somebody’s head, but I’m sorry… I literally gasped when I saw that photo. Someone much less sensitive than I could have picked up that it was sketchy.

  9. I’m not sure, but I think – and keep in mind I took lots of advanced English courses so my grasp of symbolism is pretty good – I think the message is, “Shopping at target is as thrilling as penetrating a woman with a cock substitute.”

    Subtle, Target. Nice work there.

  10. Depressing. Last night on 60 minutes, they were talking about how rape is being used as a systematic weapon of terror to subdue villages in Congo. Reality is often more fucked up that even ad idiots can imagine.

  11. I must be too innocent. In all seriousness, I went from Vitruvian man, to snow-angel maker, to jumping jacks. She’s fully clothed, wearing sensible shoes, and looks active and happy. I’ve seen about a hundred zillion ads that offended me more.

    Though once it’s pointed out, it’s pretty hard to stop seeing it, and the corporate response is about as sucky as you’d expect.

  12. I was told once in a media class that nothing in advertising is ever done on accident. Hands are placed just so if possible and the positioning of objects and people in space is deliberate. Plus with any ad you can almost always play find the suggestive sexual message. This was done on purpose, accidents don’t make it out to the public as often as people think. Maybe tiny things in a higher percentage, but something big like this? That ad was probably a few months project complete with meetings where everyone in the room saw it and then likely agreed on it as being good.

    Other than the obvious sexual nature of this, what is target trying to tell us they meant with it? Because I can’t figure it out. Its just a really random and odd ad.

    Personally I’d like to see more bull terriers.

  13. When I lived in Vancouver I used to know a lot of people who did cheapass movies, television and commercials. The pieces that take the most takes are commercials. A continuity person I know told me once about spending an entire day on filming a 1.5 second shot of beer pouring. They went back and forth on stuff like the light, the pouring speed, the bubbles, the sweat on the glass. Everything had to be just so for a specific purpose. It’s actually pretty freaky.

  14. Gah! The first time I looked at this Ad, I didn’t see anything suspish (more along the lines of the “target angel” or “jumping jacks”), but now after reading the post and these comments I can’t see anything but the models vagina as the bulls eye. Ah!! get this image out of my head!! Now it’s just turned personally tormenting for me. Grrrrrr

  15. what gets me most is that if i shared this the people i know ‘i the real world,’ 90% of them would think i was just a raging angry feminist lunatic.

    i’m so glad i stumbled across your page today.

    now, exuse me while i pack up my belongings. i’m just going to move into the internet, if no one minds.

  16. I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary (looked like someone having fallen backward on a trampoline to me) until I read your explication, Kate. Now the cooter-in-the-bullseye is all I’m seeing.

    Interesting choice, too, to reverse the image and have the center be white, and the model wearing white. It implies that the particular cooter on offer is young, with no kind of menstrual blood present, and in fact the absence of menstrual blood is more strongly implied — the reds in the ad are more of a darker burgundy shade, rather than the blood-red Target has used elsewhere.

    It’s getting creepier the more I look at it.

  17. There is one thing about the Target ads, though, that I didn’t know until I asked my son what was weird about the picture. (He spotted it after a second or two.) He said that never in any of the Target ads do the arrows hit the target…that they hit everything but. That they’ve never had an ad with the arrows hitting the target. Or at least not a bullseye.

    I’m not sure if that makes a difference; this subject isn’t my forte. As evidenced by the fact that nothing in the ad registered to me at all until it was pointed out; but I tune most advertising out anyway.

  18. I imagine that the Target ad is directed towards [straight] women though: I mean, don’t women do most shopping? So what does that mean?

  19. what gets me most is that if i shared this the people i know ‘i the real world,’ 90% of them would think i was just a raging angry feminist lunatic.

    Oh, supertiff, you get used to it after a while. :)

  20. I like Cath thought much the same at first. The crinkled my brow at the vagina target. Then had the same thought about how paranoid I am to wear white pants in case I get my period.

    It’s too unsubtle to not be on purpose now that I keep looking at it. The creases in the pants, the exact placement of where she sits and how she’s slightly raised…

    I’m so glad I dropped out of marketing.

  21. It’s too unsubtle to not be on purpose now that I keep looking at it. The creases in the pants,

    Oh, man, I didn’t even notice the creases in the pants. NICE ARROW THERE, GUYS.

  22. I followed the link in the article you linked and e-mailed them. I used to love the Target, but they have disappointed me over the years. In fact, my first real job was for the Target Corp before they became the Target Corp. But yeah, I think I’ll be hitting the Kmart for the few things I absolutely need (laundry detergent) from now on. Bad Target execs.

    Oh, and as I pointed out in my e-mail to them, it’s a bit disingenuous to say you won’t comment on a critical analysis of your ads in non-traditional media when you know damned well that the “traditional” media will not jeopardize sponsorship by criticizing anyone with ad money.

  23. I didn’t see it so much as “vagina = literal target,” but I definitely noticed that her crotch was the very center of the ad and that all the lines draw your eye right to her area.

    Which is weird anyway, even without the extra symbolism of the target underneath.

    Sigh. Unfortunately it won’t stop me shopping at Target, because they’re the less-evil alternative to Wal-Mart (aka the Pit of Satan).

  24. You can find most anything offensive if that is where your mind it at… And since I know quite a few creative directors that are women my quess it that they took a calculated risk. I am a male creative services professional of almost 18 years and my girlfriend will tell you that sex is on my mind most of the time. (BTW- she is the one that sent this posting to me) But when I first looked at it all of your comments did not come to my mind. I can see where you are coming from but it wasn’t my first thought.

    What I see is a pose that is often struck when some one jumps in the air on a trampeline or playfully falling backwards into the snow. To me… for this imply more of a sexual message here legs would be spread out wider and slightly bent. “Ladies” have you ever layed your legs out in such a stiff and straight manner for a man? Seriously. If she was without the “Target”, naked and in Playboy you would talk about how stiff and unnatural she looked. Really.

    I do think advertising agency did their homework. They just counted on the public’s eye and thirst to find the smallest hint of sexual activity or the possibility of it in everything around them.

    In short….

    The sex is in your mind…. not in the ad. The ad agency knows that.

    Case in point. Ask a young child… one young enough to have not have been so exposed to all the sexual conversation and exploitation that an adult might have been I don’t think they would have the same thoughts.

    Like I said… one can find offense in anything if that is where your mind is.

    Here is another that I did not find offensive… however many of my peers did.

    My thoughts… are that they chose the imagery that best described speed. Anyone else would have left that point questionable.

  25. Um, I guess I’m the only person who didn’t notice the crotch-in-the-bullseye thing. I don’t see this as a big deal.

  26. Hookscity, I don’t think you’re a troll, but I do think you’re being absurdly disingenuous. “The sex isn’t in the ad”? No shit, Sherlock. Did you notice that we’re actually complaining about the positioning of a woman’s body on a target, centered at her crotch? It’s not the sex, it’s the violence.

    And the violence? That’s also in people’s minds. Lots of people’s minds. Does that mean I have to condone and encourage it, or condone and encourage advertisers taking advantage of it?

  27. Okay, and btw? Is it just me, or are her thighs as long as her torso? I know there’s some perspective weirdness going on (because, COINCIDENTALLY, we’re looking at her as if standing at her feet and she is laying down in front of us… nothing sexual in THAT vantage point! ahem!), but seriously, I think her thighs are as long as her torso. Which means she’s like, 8 feet tall. And somebody did some serious photoshopping to make sure she filled out that entire target, once her crotch was in the right place.

    HooksCity – of course the sex is “all in our minds”. That’s the POINT. Target can’t just SAY, “Shopping at Target is so awesome, it’s like getting laid!” If you’re in advertising, then surely you know the point is to use as many societally agreed-upon cues to imply sex, violence, or sex-and-violence, as possible, without actually just saying it straight out.

  28. Target’s response wasn’t very satisfying. Didn’t expect it to be.

    I’m sorry to hear you’re disappointed with our advertising, but I hope you’ll accept our apologies.

    As our Target guest you expect great products at a great value, and we want our advertising to send the same message. That’s why we try to represent our merchandise in a manner reflecting our company philosophy and image as a family-oriented store, while serving many guests with diverse tastes and interests. Of course your thoughts and comments are a big help to us; that’s why I’ll be sure to let our Advertising executives know what you’ve had to say.

    Have questions or want more information? Give us a call at (800) 440-0680. You can also drop by the Guest Services Desk at any store, or visit us on Either way, we’re here to help!

    Thanks for shopping with us. We hope to see you again soon at Target.


    (name deleted)
    Target Executive Offices[/quote]

    I just don’t see anything “family friendly” in this ad at all. It’s not the pose, it’s the placement. It’s the violence of the Target combined with the sexualization of the woman’s pose.

    And it the sex in ads isn’t “in our minds” alone. The design of the advertisement is calculated to elicit that thought and response. Or do they no longer teach the psychology of advertising?

  29. What bothers me the most is the folks on Shakes, and Feministe, and Jezebel, that are insisting that the subtext isn’t there just because they don’t see it.

    As a result, I don’t think it’s an unreasonable conclusion that whatever 2008’s versions of the Willie Horton ads are — you know, the ones that sunk Dukakis as national nominee — are just gonna float right on by.


  30. I tried the ad out on my students. I asked them to write their reaction to the ad — whatever came to mind — in two sentences. Most saw “just a Target ad.” A few saw a woman making snow angels. Three (out of 24) saw a disturbing image of a woman splayed on a target with her crotch as the ultimate goal, and they spoke about that eloquently. All three were women.

    And yet, somehow, 3 of 24 is comforting. At least it wasn’t 0. And these people are very young still — 18-20. In a few weeks, after they’ve forgotten the Target ad, I’m going to pull out the headless woman pencil sharpener that was pilloried at Shakesville.

  31. What bothers me the most is the folks on Shakes, and Feministe, and Jezebel, that are insisting that the subtext isn’t there just because they don’t see it.

    Yes! Or even worse, that it’s not there because it doesn’t bother them.

  32. Yes! Or even worse, that it’s not there because it doesn’t bother them.

    Absolutely. But then, isn’t that the way with every. fucking. offensive. thing. out there? Unless someone is actually shouting, “I would like to personally kill all people of color/women/gay people/disabled people/transgendered people/fill-in-the-blank people!” from the rooftops, there will always be those who say that taking offense at an offensive thing is just being “oversensitive.” Grrrrr.

  33. That’s what I like… some sort of data. The first to be introduced here… 3 out of 24 students saw this ad offensive. 18 – 20. that’s 8% (or 80,000 of of 1M consumers) surveyed found it offensive… or 92% (920,000 out of 1M consumers) did not find it offensive. So are we to proceed through life doing nothing because there is some slim chance that someone may find our actions offensive. Some find different religions offensive, thus the wars in the middle east. What is offensive to one may not be to another. Where do you draw the line?… less than 1% offensive rate? Out of 1 million that could still be near 10,000 phone calls, emails or letters from angry consumers.

    What if we spun it around and suggesed it was a subliminal message that the woman’s vagina is the target or source from whence a family emmerges therefore coinciding with a the family theme…

  34. HooksCity, seriously, a target is not a “source.” It’s the thing you’re supposed to SHOOT AT. The ad is misogynistic. If that doesn’t offend some people, it’s because we’ve been trained by our culture to accept misogyny as normal.

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