#AlexFromTarget: Social Media Gold or Ultimate Hoax?

Mallory Scudder | @Mallory Scudder Here’s how the story goes: Alex, a 16-year-old Target employee of three months, was bagging groceries when, unbeknownst to him, a teenage girl took his photo and posted it on Twitter. A few days later, the Frisco, TX, native who only had 144 Twitters followers to start with had ballooned to a whopping 550,000 followers. His manager at Target was the one who brought it to his attention that he had gone viral. Since then, Alex has become an overnight celebrity and has been on several TV shows including the Ellen DeGeneres show. The trending hashtag, #AlexFromTarget has been tweeted more than 1 million times.

How does something like this happen? How does a teenage boy unknowingly go viral? Aren’t there tons of teenage heartthrobs out there whose photo is taken and posted on social media by someone crushing on them? What made #AlexFromTarget a widely talked about topic? The answer is simple: there is no rhyme or reason behind what goes viral.

For Target, it’s like waking up on Christmas morning. Between the number of times that Target has been (and will be) mentioned across social media platforms and the media attention the company is receiving, they have acquired what most big name brands pay billions to achieve.  Which is exactly what Target needed to pull itself out of the ditch after the recent credit card security breachand right before the holidays too!

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. That’s right, while still unconfirmed, there has been some suspicion that #AlexFromTarget is yet another Internet marketing hoax after a marketing company called Breakr recently claimed to be behind the whole thing as a social experiment “to see how powerful the fangirl demographic was,” according to a post on the company’s LinkedIn.

However, since Breakr announced that it’s the mastermind behind the Internet sensation, Target, as well as Alex, have been on the defense that neither have heard of Breakr and were not involved in a larger agenda. "Let us be completely clear, we had absolutely nothing to do with the creation, listing or distribution of the photo. And we have no affiliation whatsoever with the company that is taking credit for its results," a Target spokesperson said. Breakr has quickly retracted parts of its story and has muddied the facts in its involvement with the so-called hoax.

It’s still very unclear, but the question is, who is hoaxing who? Is Target trying to pull one over the public's head just in time for the holiday rush or is Breakr attempting to cash in on Target's viral luck? We may never know. Either way, congratulations Target for hitting social media gold! This just goes to show that any social media trend, no matter how small, can go viral and generate buzz about a brand.