Lessons in Business Writing, Part 3

Posted: February 3, 2014 in Editing, Rhetorical Analysis
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

On December 19, 2013, Target unveiled a press release regarding unauthorized access to payment card data that may have impacted certain guests making credit and debit card purchases in its U.S. stores. Approximately 40 million credit and debit card accounts may have been impacted between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15, 2013.

Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel delivered a message on December 20, 2013 stating:

We take this crime seriously. It was a crime against Target, our team members, and most importantly, our guests. We’re in this together, and in that spirit, we are extending a 10% discount – the same amount our team members receive – to guests who shop in U.S. stores on Dec. 21 and 22. Again, we recognize this issue has been confusing and disruptive during an already busy holiday season. We want to emphasize that the issue has been addressed and let guests know they can shop with confidence at their local Target stores.

Target released further media updates regarding the security breach from December 20, 23, 24, and 27 with a final update on January 10, 2014. The media updates surrounding Target’s security for credit card payments were both professional and timely. Both the media updates and the CEO’s statement reflects the emotions of his readers, which ranged from fearful, outraged and discomforted. The press releases all had language that reassured the reader that the issue was being addressed and would swiftly be resolved. Formatting for the press releases and released statement was easy for the eye to skim and the bottom line message was included within the first paragraph.

Then I received this email on January 15, 2014.

Original E-mail from Target received on January 15, 2014

Dear Target Guest,
As you may have heard or read, Target learned in mid-December that criminals forced their way into our systems and took guest information, including debit and credit card data. Late last week, as part of our ongoing investigation, we learned that additional information, including name, mailing address, phone number or email address, was also taken. I am writing to make you aware that your name, mailing address, phone number or email address may have been taken during the intrusion.
I am truly sorry this incident occurred and sincerely regret any inconvenience it may cause you. Because we value you as a guest and your trust is important to us, Target is offering one year of free credit monitoring to all Target guests who shopped in U.S. stores, through Experian’s® ProtectMyID® product which includes identity theft insurance where available. To receive your unique activation code for this service, please go to creditmonitoring.target.com and register before April 23, 2014. Activation codes must be redeemed by April 30, 2014.
In addition, to guard against possible scams, always be cautious about sharing personal information, such as Social Security numbers, passwords, user IDs and financial account information. Here are some tips that will help protect you:

  • Never share information with anyone over the phone, email or text, even if they claim to be someone you know or do business with. Instead, ask for a call-back number.
  • Delete texts immediately from numbers or names you don’t recognize.
  • Be wary of emails that ask for money or send you to suspicious websites. Don’t click links within emails you don’t recognize.
Target’s email communication regarding this incident will never ask you to provide personal or sensitive information.
Thank you for your patience and loyalty to Target. You can find additional information and FAQs about this incident at our Target.com/databreach website. If you have further questions, you may call us at 866-852-8680.
Gregg Steinhafel
Chairman, President and CEO

Rhetorical Analysis

“Should I be concerned?” was my first question. My original reading was that the situation was more serious. Taking the time to read this was a conscious effort on my part. I thought since it was a one page email with bullets I would have time to read this. I didn’t realize it would spawn an entire rhetorical analysis. Since it was addressed to me (I am a Target guest), I thought my personal information was a risk for being stolen. There was a sense of urgency in the language of this email. “Criminals forced their way into systems” immediately sets off red flags and fire alarms in my head. I figured this was especially urgent since the CEO (or the CEO’s ghostwriter) took the time to craft the email.

This topic had already been on my radar screen since both my sisters received letters from the credit union the three of us use. They were informed that they would be sent new debit cards because they had shopped at Target between November 27 thru December 15.  As for me, I had already checked my bank and credit card statements before receiving this email and nothing seemed amiss. My next question was, “Should I register for Experian’s Protect My Id product. Figuring it wasn’t necessary, I have instead chosen to be more cognizant and vigilant about the ways to protect myself from scams and identity theft.

After a close reading, I’ve determined that Target is still working on the investigation regarding the security system hacking that happened a month ago. I don’t have anything to be concerned about and can ignore the email, but not the rhetoric. Another reason why I wasn’t emotionally invested in taking the suggested action is that the idea wasn’t altogether sticky.

Made to Stick SUCCESs Analysis

(Click here to read more information on what makes an idea “sticky”).

I had to read this email several times to get a sense for the bottom-line message. Since this email raised more questions than answered them, I didn’t think the email was Simple. The email fulfilled the Unexpected category in a positive and negative way. I wasn’t expecting the security breach investigation to still be  ongoing. I also didn’t expect Target to provide a free identity protection service. A suggestion to make this email more Concrete would be to explain the process that forensic computer security investigators used to uncover what the hackers did. Since there weren’t any concrete details such as statistics on how many customers have been affected or helped, I didn’t think the email had much Credibility in terms of satisfying Target customers. The Emotional bent to the email was lost with business cliches such as “truly sorry” and “sincerely regret any inconvenience.” However the bulleted list does appeal to my self-interest to protect myself against identity theft. This email could have been a Story with a creativity plot that addressed the breakthrough needed to find out that Target’s security had been hacked. The opportunity to describe what was being done to solve the problem in an innovative way was also missed.



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