It's become an institution. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.
But it's not just for men. Sports Illustrated estimates 18 million women will flip through the pages of this year's issue, some perhaps yearning to look just a little like now two-time cover model Kate Upton. This year, Target is gearing up to put that pipe dream a bit more within reach.
For the first time, Sports Illustrated has chosen a Target swimsuit as part of the models' wardrobe for the iconic photoshoots.
Jessica Perez was photographed in Chile wearing one of Target's Xhilaration-branded bikinis. While the picture may be priceless, the swimsuit runs just $19.99 for the top, and $14.99 for the bottom.
Landing in the swimsuit edition is the kind of marketing most retailers can only dream about. Although Target didn't pay for the honor, it has invested in the Time Warner magazine's swimsuit edition.
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Target is the exclusive advertiser for a 'minizine' within the magazine. The "Secrets of Swimsuit" insert has six pages of Sports Illustrated content and six pages of related Target advertising, including photos of models Ariel Meredith, Anne V and Kate Bock wearing Target's Xhilaration brand swimsuits. It's a style guide with hair and makeup tips and comments from models themselves to help everyday women reach for that beach-ready, picture-perfect look. And if you're hungry for some behind-the-scenes footage and continued digital content, you'll see Target is a sponsor of the SI digital videos as well.
The large female readership and general demand for swimsuits shows the size of the prize at stake, said Michelle Mesenberg, Target's vice president of Marketing. The company is hoping for some positive buzz surrounding the issue.
The bikinis featured in Sports Illustrated will be available by the end of the week at Target. The inventory is being planned as usual, but because the swim season for Target is a long one, the retailer can increase orders if demand spikes, Mesenberg said.
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But the retailer isn't sitting back and waiting for consumers to make the connection. There is signage in stores proclaiming "as seen in Sports Illustrated" and the swimsuits featured in the minizine and magazine are tagged with a Sports Illustrated teardrop-shaped tag.
So go ahead ladies, grab your bikini and feel like cover model.
-By CNBC's Courtney Reagan; Follow her on Twitter @CourtReagan
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