Brand Diffusion and the Lilly for Target Thing

2 min read

Until recently, I had no idea who or what Lilly Pulitzer was. Which isn’t surprising, since it’s first, for people who spend significant amounts of time in Palm Beach, and second, for those who care about what people in Palm Beach like or do. As I fall into neither of those groups, I had no idea what Target’s Lilly Pulitzer collection might mean, even as I caught the ad full of splashy people in splashy prints splashing it up at a splashy pool party in a mansion. I got that there were clothes involved, and some branch of the Pulitzer family, and was that Chris Noth? And a giraffe? Basically, I had no clue.

But a lot of other people did. Last Sunday morning they caused a temporary shutdown of Target’s website and lined up outside Target stores early, picking the racks clean in just a few hours (or minutes, in some locations). By Sunday afternoon, Target found itself the focus of a good bit of social media ire, much of it focused on the website problem, but some on the large number of pieces which had already popped up for resale on eBay, 1.5 percent of the entire collection, according to the New York Times.

I suppose it wasn’t pleasant for Target to have to deal with the complaints, and maybe they did underestimate the demand. Allegedly, the limited-time partnership was to last a few weeks. But it’s still good news for Target, which took a beating over a credit card heist in 2013. The run on Lilly will be old news soon enough, but its reputation for cheap chic has once again been burnished, at least for a while.

And what of Lilly Pulitzer? Announcements of the Target partnership incensed a lot of brand loyalists who were sorry to see the pricy, though hardly exclusive, brand diluted for the masses. A much more reasoned and informed reaction, by author of The Preppy Handbook, Lisa Birnbach, points out that the brand has been moving itself in a more democratic direction for some time, and that Pulitzer herself was no snob, having allowed “a family of raccoons” to take residence in the driveway of her Palm Beach estate. Perhaps the partnership made sense on both sides.

A related question, I suppose, relates to the element of surprise. Not only whether Target was genuinely surprised by the excitement over the Lilly collection, but whether consumers will allow themselves to get sucked in again by the promise of affordable status. Are consumers that willing to play the pawn in the marketing games of a discount chain?

Or was this just a test run, perhaps, for future brand collaborations? If so, it seems to have passed with flying (and bright and slightly ragged) colors.

Photo by WestportWiki (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.