How Fangirls Made #AlexFromTarget an Internet Star

Alex From Target
When marketing online or off, it helps to have a fanatic group that can spread the word for you. But, as the story of an unusual new meme demonstrates, it can often be hard to predict exactly where that fanatic support may come from.

Take the case of a young man named Alex Lee, who works checkout at a Target outside Dallas. Within the space of a day, a photo of Lee taken anonymously by a customer and posted to Tumblr was re-posted on Twitter and quickly went viral.

In less than a week, Lee’s Twitter account had amassed half a million followers (it’s now over 700,000!) and the hashtag #AlexFromTarget had been tweeted more than 800,000 times. The resulting mainstream media frenzy included a visit on the Ellen DeGeneres show below:

Here’s how it apparently all went down.

On a Sunday afternoon, a Twitter user with the handle @auscalum posted the photo of  Lee claiming she had found it on Tumblr. The original tweet has since become inaccessible.

But the photo went quickly viral and Lee’s account @acl163, which started at 144 followers, had exploded.

Soon fans were beginning to add their own hilarious touches including tweets offering advice on how to copy Lee’s look:

And suggestions for alternatives including Frankie from Starbucks:  

And Kieran from T-Mobile:

Lee says he first realized what was going on only when his manager showed him a photo on a mobile phone. He soon tweeted his own bewilderment to the world:  

And, of course, it didn’t take long for his employer to get into the act:

Initially, a marketing firm called Breakr tried to take credit for the phenomenon. In a post on LinkedIn, Breakr founder and CEO Dil-Domine Jacobe Leonares explained:

“Yesterday, we had fun on Twitter with the hashtag #AlexFromTarget which ended up to be one of the most amazing social media experiments ever. We wanted to see how powerful the fangirl demographic was by taking a unknown good-looking kid and Target employee from Texas to overnight viral Internet sensation.”

But there appears to be limited proof the viral sensation was part of a conscious marketing campaign, reports BuzzFeed. The website says some of those involved claim to have never even heard of Leonares’ company.

It’s more likely that Lee’s popularity is the work of dedicated fangirl Twitter users like @NiallWifiPizzas and @5SOSBeliefs. These Twitter accounts have large followings and passionately promote boy bands like One Direction and Five Seconds of Summer. (Lee’s resemblance to members of these bands all with boyish good looks and perfectly quaffed hair, has been mentioned more than once.)

And both Twitter accounts clearly had a hand in Lee’s wild promotion in recent weeks, The Washington Post reports.

The message for marketers is a simple one. It is possible to create a huge buzz in a very short time via social media — even if you are new to the market.

Just find a dedicated fan base with a similar interest and see if you can get them to do some of the work for you.

Image: Twitter


Shawn Hessinger Shawn Hessinger is the Executive Editor for Small Business Trends and a professional journalist with more than 20 years experience in traditional and digital media for trade publications and news sites. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and has served as a beat reporter, columnist, editorial writer, bureau chief and managing editor for the Berks Mont Newspapers.

8 Reactions
  1. He’s adorable, and it’s quite sweet and funny how it took off from there and all the various reactions. But, it made me wonder about privacy and the fact the picture was taken without his knowledge.

  2. So, what did Alex really do?! 😉

    • What do you mean, Martin? Is there something you know that we don’t?

      • I don’t get the whole buzz around Alex from Target, but I could have missed the power of teenage fangirls! 😉

        Which will be next big viral thing do you think?

      • I’m guessing that to them, he looks like he could be in a boy band? It’s also the novelty of it, I guess. Who’s done what they’ve done before?

  3. Interesting, It seems like its no more about just people with precious social gifts like mentioned in this article, boy bands One direction, Five Second in Summer (FSIS) rather about anything that is similar, in this present case it is just “looks” of a lad and that made him viral.

    Famous people lookalikes have been always admired by people. I think we can discover most successful marketing tactics by just looking around, just taking a picture at some store and voila.

    But there is even a greater effort, for instance if there was no boy bands like one direction/FSIS Alex would have been just another joe in the town.

    Indeed marketing of those boy bands resulted in some fanatic fans that saw alex lee somehow crazily similar, lookalike to boys in those bands.

    Thanks for Shawn Hassenger such an interesting perspective on something very common, After all that’s what marketer do, by making ordinary things rare and intriguing!

    Btw you are not active at your gplus account! 😉

  4. *Thanks Shawn Hassenger FOR…. such an interesting perspective on something very common, After all that’s what marketer do, by making ordinary things LOOK rare and intriguing!