For four minutes of prime-time TV Sunday night, Target blurred the lines between programming and commercial time.

Some viewers who tuned into the Grammy Awards didn't realize at first that the live Imagine Dragons performance they were watching was a commercial for the Minneapolis-based retailer.

That became more apparent when the band's circular stage lit up to become Target's trademark red bull's-eye. And it really hit home with the plug at the end for the band's upcoming album, an exclusive version of which will be available at Target with four additional songs.

William White, Target's vice president of marketing, said Monday that viewers' initial confusion came with the territory of doing something for the first time.

The spot was apparently the first live commercial in the 57-year history of the Grammys. Because many people tune into the show for the performances, Target wanted to tap into that interest.

"Target has a rich history of creating unexpected, buzzworthy moments that become part of pop culture," White said. "It's part of the DNA for the company."

The live commercial is a prime example of a broader marketing trend called "native advertising," in which the ad becomes seamless with the information or entertainment around it. In newspapers and magazines, there have long been ads with headlines and text similar to the publication. And online, websites have found many ways to blend advertising in with other content.

In this case, said Haim Mano, a marketing professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, "You have the impression that the show is still on and the commercial becomes part of the show."

As a longtime sponsor of the Grammys, Target usually gets eight 30-second spots during the awards show. In previous years, it has filled them with ads to promote exclusive partnerships with artists such as Shakira and Justin Timberlake.

This time around, Target decided to group that time into one four-minute-long live performance to trumpet its exclusive edition of Imagine Dragon's upcoming album "Smoke & Mirrors," which will be released next Tuesday.

Billboard estimated the airtime for the commercial cost Target $8 million. The retailer declined to discuss the costs.

In addition to the airtime, Target spent a considerable amount on the elaborate setup, which included shutting down a street in Imagine Dragons' hometown of Las Vegas for more than a week while the stage was erected. It took 575 people to build the set, which was lit by 2,500 square feet of LEDs.

"The idea was very simple, but how it all came together was certainly not simple," White said. "There were moments when we were skeptical we could really make it happen."

First, it had to get CBS on board. Then it had to assure the band that the commercial would come off as "authentic" and not just a gimmick. And then there were the technical details of pulling off a live performance.

Target tried to keep it the performance a surprise while finding 300 fans to be in the audience.

The retailer began dropping clues through social media and its recently launched account on Snapchat in the days leading up to the performance.

Jonas Akerlund, a music video director who has worked with the likes of Madonna and Maroon 5, directed the commercial. He used more than 20 cameras on the ground and a helicopter for aerial shots.

During the commercial, Imagine Dragons debuted the song, "Shots," from the upcoming album. The band rehearsed the song a couple of times before the broadcast so it could fine-tune the lights and camera angles, White said.

During the live performance, a monitor from CBS was on hand to make sure nothing untoward happened on screen in the chance something needed to be bleeped out.

"We were on the edge of our seats," White said.

Footage from the performance will be featured in a 30-second spot Target will begin airing next week to promote the album. On Monday, Target tried to keep the buzz going by offering those who tweeted to it access to a not-yet-released track.

Kavita Kumar • 612-673-4113