Every story has a backdrop, and a certain retailer consistently has been a part of mine. I have loved going to Target since it first opened up on the outskirts of my hometown when I was a child. It was a magical place where my sister and I could spend our allowances on frozen Cokes, bulk Brach’s candies, and toys – like our beloved Simon and Theodore stuffed Chipmunks. (Simon accompanied me to college and beyond. And my sister still has her Theodore, too.)

I am pretty certain that one of the reasons that Target stores still hold a special place in my heart is that they remind me of a simpler time. Growing up in the midwest, buying spiral notebooks and Bic ink pens for back to school, and leisurely strolling the toy department with my sister and making notes of what we would add to our Christmas lists as we sipped our frozen beverages from the snack bar.

So, it’s pretty much guaranteed that Target and I will be in some sort of relationship for as long as we both shall live. I can’t really say how much of this relationship is based on convenience and availability of products that I use for my business or my household, but I know for sure that some portion of it is based on the fact that Target is an old friend with whom I grew up. The kind of friend with whom you want to keep in touch.

And as if that were not enough to guarantee a certain percentage of all my future income, Target has found a way to entice me to part with even more dough. Some of you may have experienced this, too.

  1. You are minding your business and putting the things from your (pointless) Target list into your cart, you notice something you haven’t seen in the stores since the 80s or 90s: The exact My Little Pony that you had in elementary school, the view master that your older siblings had to reluctantly share with you, color forms, and – wait – is that the Chutes and Ladders board game? Why, yes. Yes, it is.
  2. It’s almost your birthday. You’re heading to the food section to pick up some bottled water, and you pass by that classic toy section (you know, just because) and you see a mini Tetris arcade game. Ahhh, Tetris. Remember, back in 1990-something you got that for some birthday that started with a 1? Yep, that was a while ago. Good old Tetris. Maybe you should buy it for stress relief. It would be nice to play a few games in between working and calls, right?
  3. You feel like you’re at the shopping mall on a Friday evening after school thanks to the new store layouts. It reminds you of a time when you wanted to get home by 8:00 to watch the TGIF sitcoms.
  4. Speaking of the new layout, the section that is reminiscent of a beloved bookstore has classic TV action figures and other merch that you have to be a certain age to get the reference. There are all kinds of magical finds with a little doll in the image of Tootie from The Facts of Life being perhaps the most magical of all.
  5. You can still get a frozen Coke, though now they’re called Icees. New name same cold goodness that burns when you sip too fast. Though, I must admit that I opt for soy lattes more frequently than slushy soda pop.

The brands that we have grown up with have an advantage in creating connections with consumers. At least on the surface, it has nothing to do with data. It has to do with a familiar icon that triggers old feelings and creates a sense of familiarity that gives some brands an advantage. They already hold a place of significance in our hearts and it will take something catastrophic to make us un-love them.

What most likely is data-driven is Target’s selection of classic fare. No other shopping experience requires me to talk myself out of putting something in my cart that isn’t on the list or otherwise a necessity. They get me. They really get me.

Does logic always rule? Nope. For example, the day I saw Strawberry Shortcake’s original BFF, Orange Blossom, on that special classic toy aisle, there was no question as to whether she was making it into the cart. My 30-something-year-old self was transported back to that fateful evening when my 6-year-old self smelled that burny melty smell that was my original Orange Blossom’s face being eaten by the light bulb of the lamp where my 3-year-old sister hid her under the lampshade. It was a sad day.

Now, I finally got to make things right, at least as far as my vintage toy collection is concerned. Thanks, Target. I can always count on you.