How and Why Alex From Target Just Broke the Internet

alextargeIf you’ve been on the internet at any point since approximately 2:49 p.m., October 26, you’ve likely heard about “Alex from Target.” Meaning you’ve seen Buzzfeed quizzes (How ‘Alex from Target’ Are You?) and you’ve seen headlines of “The 17 Best Alex From Target Memes,” and by Monday morning on November 3, you may have even clicked on links from legitimate news websites — CNN, The Washington Post, etc. — for an explanation of this internet phenomenon.

And then you found out that he’s just a boy, albeit a fairly good looking boy, from the perspective of the teenage girls who enabled his rise to fame, who works at Target.

He’s nothing special (no offense, Alex), in terms of how and why he Broke The Internet. But once a few people (i.e., teenage girls) shared his photo on Twitter, it was only a matter of hours before the world knew that a boy named Alex, who has wonderfully side-swept hair and who looks good in red and khaki, is a cashier at a Target store.

Once major news outlets picked up on his story (or lack thereof), Alex from Target became real news. In a world where instant social media sharing has fostered the creation of “viral” videos, photos, and status updates, it’s actually not surprising that a young boy could become Internet Famous just for looking good. In fact, this type of instant fame is more common than ever.

Once a Twitter hashtag starts “trending,” the entire world knows the story behind it within a matter of minutes. People tag updates and re-post photos, simply because everyone else is doing it. Do 453,000 Twitter followers (and counting) really care about Alex from Target? Probably not. But genuine appreciation isn’t always the point of social media marketing.

Once Target officially addressed the Alex from Target affair, stating that he had not been fired due to his internet fame, but that Target “hearts Alex, too!” –Target’s entire brand just changed.

It isn’t just a store where college kids shop for dorm furniture and fun, expensive decor, and it isn’t just the place where busy parents grab milk, shampoo, and some office supplies in 10 minutes flat. Suddenly, Target became a reachable, young company — a corporation that’s “cool” enough to care about Twitter trends of teenagers, and one that clearly takes pride in its employees’ successes (fleeting and small though they may be).

Like most viral sensations, Alex from Target is likely a one-off (people have tried to get Kieran from T-Mobile and Frankie from Starbucks on the same level, and it just hasn’t stuck). Nevertheless, this is a valuable lesson in online marketing. The world of internet marketing is largely inexplicable, even by those who use it regularly, but one small move can completely change a business’s brand.

“The #AlexfromTarget story really demonstrates the power of social media,” says Stacie Foster, Marketing Associate at Archer Communications. “With one photo from a smartphone, an everyday teenager can become a celebrity overnight. People on Twitter are now setting the media agenda, instead of reacting to it.”

In all reality, Alex from Target will be lucky if his worldwide fame lasts as far as Thanksgiving, and Target will likely encounter another PR nightmare by that point anyway (if not another digital security breach, then certainly another Black Friday fiasco will be waiting). But if Alex for Target happens to do something monumental and newsworthy in the meantime, it’s likely that his 453,000+ Twitter followers will let the world know.


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