A post from a friend on LinkedIn this morning brought my attention to what’s being dubbed a “social media hoax” in the form of a Twitter frenzy known as the hashtag #AlexFromTarget.

A couple of days ago someone snapped a shot of a young Target employee of Beiber-ish appearance supposedly hard at work; then set the universe aflame by Tweeting it.

If you believe reports: wars stopped, traffic jammed, satellites shifted orbit, and the Pope popped a mezuzah on the front door of the Vatican. Then of course, the media jumped all over it.

My favorite story came from the brave Washington Post, whose headline screamed:

Alex From Target and the Exploitative Anger of Internet Fame

Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald hopped on the bandwagon. Grabbing the Washington Post article verbatim from the wires they ran it with a subtle headline change—obviously to save ink: “Alex from Target and the danger of internet fame”.

According to the Post’s investigative journalist, Terrence McCoy, forget Darfur, Syria, and Iraq the world must take action because poor Alex:

He is powerless as hundreds of thousands pass judgement on his appearance.

Not to mention the typo in American English there, unthinkingly repeated of course by those who regurgitated the piece.

Fast forward a couple of days and an obsure Internet start-up called Breakr hopped on Twitter and suddenly took credit for what it considers the greatest marketing coup ever (please note my tongue firmly being bit as I type this).

Writes Gigaom staff reporter, Carmel DeAmicis, whose article was the first I saw regarding the “hoax” aspect of this fiasco:

“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,” CEO of Breakr, Dil-Domine Jacobe Leonares, said in the LinkedIn post.

However, it seems that Breakr’s claim ain’t so. In fact, the company had nothing to do with launching the hashtag at all. Writes c|net’s Chris Matyszczyk:

But over the course of Tuesday night, Leonares’ claims were severely challenged. Some chose to believe him. Others did not. The truth, wouldn’t you know it, seems murky. … By late in the evening, Leonares was already beginning to backtrack on his claims […] He now says Breakr was merely part of this seminal world event.

As for Target, that struggling brand hit by the world’s largest retail hacking fraud late 2013 and now facing billions in lawsuits—it had nothing at all to do with the “AlexFromTarget” hashtag or more importantly with Breakr. Writes Zach Johnson from E:

Target, meanwhile, said it had nothing to do with the stunt that made one of its employees instantly famous. “We value Alex as a team member and from the first moment we saw this photo beginning to circulate, we shared that the Target team was as surprised as anyone. That remains the truth today.”

But where does this leave poor ’ol Alex —the focus of Twitter’s euphoria and holder of now, half a million Twitter followers worldwide (he originally only had 144)?

Well, this 16-year old Dallas kid of course found himself on “Ellen”.

She gave him an iPad too—not a bad quid pro quo for the $ millions her show likely made airing that day.

To his credit, Alex had his head on his shoulders during this TV stint. When asked if he had any talent—could he play an instrument or dance for example—the bright-eyed boy replied:

I can apparently bag groceries pretty well.

But something doesn’t gel.

Take a good looking kid, a social media platform struggling for survival against rabid rivals, a retail giant fighting for Christmas trade against a scam-wary public, and a start-up industry hungering for funds in a slowing economy—and you get a commercial chimera.

Why was Alex allowed to wear a corporate-approved “Target” badge on his Target-red T-shirt on Ellen? Was he now an approved Target spokesperson? Did Breakr raise itself from obscurity? Did its seed funding grow—its beta website promises to “connect fans to their fandom?” As for TV—well, it’s already cashed in and moved on.

Indeed, the only honest broker in this whole episode, as I’ve viewed it thus far, has been Ellen-TV. Most times the best humor is subtle, other times its ludicrousness makes tact impossibly so.

Therefore when Ellen asked Alex to stop by her show’s souvenir store and hop behind the counter to pack bags, she gave him a long-sleeved red T that appropriately read:

#I’mAlexFromTargetAndIWasOnEllenAndSheGaveMeThisSweatshirt AndPleaseWatchHerShowEveryDay

That’s shtick. Now look for the real “Alex From Target” ads … coming to a screen near you.

© 2014 Adam Parker. You’ve just read a Parkerpinion.
Main picture credit: EllenTube © 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.