A bullseye and the color red immediately make us think of one retailer. A 2003 survey found that 96% of Americans recognized them as the symbols of Target stores. That’s higher recognition than the Apple symbol or the Nike swoosh.
Target is the eighth largest retailer in the US, and its familiar red symbols regularly beckon from highways across the country. What is the story behind the bullseye?
History of Target and Its Famous Logo
In 1902, George Dayton opened the Dayton Dry Goods Company in Minneapolis. In 1918, he established the Dayton Foundation with a $1 million grant. Today, the foundation is named the Target Foundation.
At his death in 1938, his son George took over ownership of the company. Under his leadership, Target regularly set aside a percentage of its profits for charitable giving. The Dayton family continued to manage the company as it expanded into many retail areas.
Read more on how to trademark a logo.
First Target Store
In 1962, the family-run company opened its first Target store in Roseville, Minnesota. The Dayton company considered more than 200 names before deciding on the bullseye and the name Target, which indicated that the store hit the target in every dimension. The founders envisioned Target as a store that would “combine the best of the fashion world with the best of the discount world, a quality store with quality merchandise at discount prices.”
Before opening the store, the Dayton company advertised heavily and placed newspaper articles about it. These efforts publicized the store’s low prices, 75 departments and more than 1000 parking spaces. The store was a smashing success. Over the years, more Targets opened regionally.
Target now has 1500 stores in over 47 states, including Super Target stores that also have grocery stores, vision centers and other special offerings. Target stores are wildly popular with an almost cultish following. It has even spawned an industry term called the “Target effect,” which refers to walking into a store for one or two things and walking out with a dozen.
Through all these changes, the store’s logo has remained almost identical to the first bullseye logo in 1962. It modernized slightly in 1968, but otherwise it has remained largely untouched.
A Few Changes
The original logo featured three red, open rings and the word “Target” written in black inside the rings. The 1968 upgrade moved the store name to the side with a single red dot and one open ring. In 1975, a Target advertisement featured a woman wearing an earring decorated with the new, streamlined Target symbol.
In 2000, the company dropped the name “Target” altogether. The bullseye alone was enough to signal the store’s identity.
The company tried a total overhaul of the logo in 1989. The new design removed the bullseye entirely. It was a marketing disaster, and the company quickly went back to the familiar bullseye.
A Memorable Mascot
In 1999, target introduced its live mascot Bullseye. Advertisers used food coloring to draw a red bullseye around one of Bullseye’s eyes. The white English bull terrier appears in ads, as a plush toy and on the store’s gift cards. Like the red bullseye symbol, the dog has become an easily recognizable symbol of the store.
Target registered its trademark color in 2003. Target Red is the official Pantone color the company has claimed as its own.
The retailer has had to protect its well-known marks in court.
In 2014, Target scored a major victory in trademark court when it received a favorable ruling from the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. In this decision, Target Brands Inc. v. Artificer Life Corp., the board ruled Artificer could not use a bullseye in its logo. Since Artificer sells many of the same items Target does, such as jewelry and apparel, the board agreed that allowing the company to use a similar logo would confuse to customers.
Trademark Lawsuits Against Target
In 2019, the store issued cease-and-desist letters to a store in the Virgin Islands named VI Target that used a red bullseye in its logo.
That same year, however, Target faced its own trademark lawsuit. A woman in Georgia claims Target’s private food line Good & Gather is too similar to her private food company named Garnish & Gather.
Emily Golub, owner of Garnish & Gather, said she sent Target a cease-and-desist letter when she first got wind of its new Good & Gather line. She warned the company that there was a clear infringement of her trademarked name and logo. When Target continued using the name despite her letter, she sued.
Golub’s company provides catering, sells locally grown foods and connects people with healthy, organic eating. She founded it in 2013 and trademarked her company name in 2014. For comparison, Target launched its Good & Gather line in 2019, and the line sells specialty food products like bagged salads, protein bars and prepared meals. Golub claims she has found 50 products where there is an overlap between the two lines.
Golub’s lawsuit points out several trademark similarities between the two, including the use of a leaf emblem and the use of the shorthand G&G for both product lines. She also pointed out that the logos for both look almost identical. Both feature a round shape with the initials G&G inside. Many observers are calling it a classic David v. Goliath case. At the moment, there is no decision on the lawsuit.
The luxury design house Burberry of London also sued Target for trademark infringement over the use of a pattern. Target was selling scarves that looked similar to a classic Burberry design.
Unfortunately for Target, Burberry holds the trademark on that particular design. Specifically, it holds the patent on “a repeating plaid pattern consisting of a tan background, light tan vertical and horizontal lines, black vertical and horizontal lines, white squares, and red vertical and horizontal lines.”
In 2020, a Portland, Oregon, clothing store name Wild Fang sued Target over its Wild Fable line of clothing. Both clothing lines offer trendy tops, sweatshirts and accessories for women. The lawsuit alleges that customers may be confused into thinking that Wild Fable items actually come from Wild Fang.
Staying on Target
Target has been on both sides of trademark infringement lawsuits. As those cases work their way through the courts, they will clarify trademark issues on all sides. In the meantime, Target will no doubt continue its reign as the favorite retailer in red.