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In the last few days, a new viral sensation has emerged from the bowels of the Internet: Alex From Target, or #AlexFromTarget.

 

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Who is #AlexFromTarget?

 

Alex from Target is a picture of a relatively attractive young man that went viral on social sites like Twitter and Tumblr. About half of the posts were, as the kids say, fangirling out over Alex and the other half were criticizing the fact that something so… well silly… had suddenly become so popular. Regardless of your opinion on Alex, he has been tweeted about 1.5 million times and counting.

 

This is where the story starts to get weird. Target denied any involvement with #AlexFromTarget, but a company called Breakr claimed that they had created Alex in “one of the most amazing social media experiments ever.” Breakr claims they wanted to test the powers of the “fangirls” demographic by creating Alex. Fangirls are young women who spend time on social media and focus on pop culture properties that they are fans of including (but not limited to) Dr. Who, One Direction, Thor, and many, many others. Marketing to this demographic is still in its relative infancy and creating an “experiment” like this does make some sense.

 

However, Alex, Target, and the first person to tweet about Alex have all denied involvement with Breakr.

 

And this is where this weird story becomes something of a cautionary tail. Generally speaking, many brands have run astro-turf viral marketing campaigns like this before. They release content that appears to be from an independent source, then when it becomes a hit, they reveal that SURPRISE it was really just an ad. The problem is that lack of clarity over what is a social media stunt, what is an advertisement, and what is true content can frustrate or even enrage the people you want as fans of your brand. When you are trying to engage with fans, you need to be clear in everything you do. If Alex From Target truly is an ad, then he isn’t a particularly effective one because it isn’t really clear just what he’s advertising (Target? Fangirls?). Plus, many people feel betrayed when they discover that “viral content” was really just a brand trying to sell them something.

 

For more on viral content, learn how comedy site Clickhole gives viral marketing its comeuppance.