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Target debuts ‘shoppable’ short film ‘Falling for You’

Target hosted an honest-to-goodness world premiere screening at the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles on Thursday night, complete with a red carpet, celebrity attendees Kristen Bell, Nia Long and Zachary Burr Abel in the front row, and a bespoke cocktail created for the event (the Roquette – a gimlet whose key ingredient was muddled arugula).

The occasion was the first public viewing – in its entirety – of “Falling for You,” a 12-minute meet-cute starring the aforementioned trio of actors, directed by Emmy-winning director Phil Abraham and featuring – in nearly every frame -- some 110 Target-exclusive items from clothing and bath linens to pencil holders, lamps and chairs, that can also be seen scrolling up the right edge of the screen, where they can be purchased or shared via social media at the click of a mouse button.

That it’s part of the ongoing effort to make merchandise and creative content click – literally as well as figuratively – was clear.

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What was less clear is what, exactly, to call the chimera that came to life on the screen in the SLS’ garden terrace conference room? Was it a short film, an extra-long commercial, a kind of fashion lookbook come to life? Or, since it will be doled out via the Internet in installments, is it more appropriately considered a series of product-placement webisodes?

The answer is probably “all of the above.”

The plot of “Falling for You,” involves two Target employees (played by Bell and Abel) who pitch competing ideas for the retailer’s fall fashion campaign to their boss (played by Long). Yes, it has all the hallmarks of traditional rom-com – including, but not limited to, childhood rejection, workplace frisson, chance elevator meetings and paint-splattered clothing. It also includes, in no particular order, a cautionary tale about office furniture, an arugula cameo and multiple references to the migratory habits of butterflies.

All of this action is set against – or in some way involving – not just men’s and women’s apparel and accessories but also desk sets, bath linens, floor lamps and table settings. All of which will be available for purchase at Target during the month of October. (It should be noted that while the clothes came from Target, the look and individual style of the characters came with the help of stylist Jen Rade (“There was a lot of wardrobe to choose from,” said Rade, who was also at the screening. “We had a lot of fun.”)

The first installment of “Falling,” is set to go live at Target’s website on Oct. 2, with consecutive episodes to be posted on Oct. 4 and 9. Story-wise, those webisodes lead into a Web-streamed live event scheduled for Oct. 10 in New York City that Target will use to launch its fall fashion campaign.

It’s kind of hard to imagine if or how viewers – and potential customers – will respond to the three four-minute gulps of “shoppable” story, but when watched in one sitting the frenetic pace and sheer level of overt merchandise saturation called to mind those occasional stories one hears about guerrilla filmmakers who manage to shoot entire movies using the various staged rooms of a closed Ikea store.

A post-screening Q&A; with the actors and Target SVP of marketing Shawn Gensch (moderated by Ross Mathews, best known for his stint as Ross the Intern on “The Tonight Show”) turned out to be more of a rah-rah pep rally for the Minnesota-based retailer, in which we learned that the stars of the show all shop at Target! When filming was done someone might have accidentally gone home with a favorite pair of yellow shows! Someone else might have made off with a pair of purple underwear festooned with yellow bananas! In fact they were all wearing Target – right that very minute!

That being said, the evening did include some interesting insight into this kind of long-form, large scale product placement (also referred to as “branded entertainment”). Like the fact that the whatever-you-want-to-call-it was filmed here in Los Angeles in July. This is a noteworthy timetable since meshing the differing production schedules of the entertainment industry and the fashion industry has long remained one of the biggest hurdles to integrating up-to-the-minute fashion in traditional movies and television shows.

And, to hear them tell it, the stars of the show actually preferred the full-immersion aspect. “I felt like I was less aware of it than I would be in a [traditional] product placement situation,” said Bell. “where it’s identified that day that we feature X product in a particular scene. The filmmakers were aware of what they wanted to feature so it felt very fluid. … A lot of it had to do with just showing things in their natural habitat.”

Surprisingly, when asked by what benchmark Target’s foray into the realm of the shoppable/shareable short film would be judged a success or not, Gensch didn’t cite the shopping-cart click-through. “I think the sharing – the pinning and sharing of things over social media networks is what’s going to be key,” he said. “It’s going to give us a chance to build this out – and create and share a back story leading into our Oct. 10th event.”

After the Q&A; session, we had a chance to ask Gensch why Target decided to recruit recognizable actors like Bell, Long and Abel and a director of Abraham’s caliber instead of going with relative unknowns. “If it’s truly going to be entertainment,” he told us, “It has to truly be entertaining.”

Or at least, based on Gensch’s own social-media metric, be at least buzzworthy enough that a viewer will share a link to the short film -- or one of its myriad featured products -- on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

Does “Falling for You” fall into that category? Target finds out how close to the bull’s-eye they’ve shot this one starting Oct. 2.

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