Off-Target Again…This Time To the Left

Minnesota–based Target Corporation is outraging the conservative Family Research Council and American Family Association  by giving consumers the option of expressing “love,” “pride” and “harmony” on their clothing.    Thems fightin’ words for social conservatives, at least if the love, pride or harmony has to do with gay people.

In association with National Pride Month, t-shirts carrying those messages are now being offered by Target.  In addition, up to $120,000 from sales of t-shirts apparently will go to the Family Equality Council, which supports same-sex families in a variety of ways, including in the political arena.  The Family Equality Council website says “Because of us…the law more often recognizes all the moms and dads who have made the commitment to be parents.”

Context:  In 2008, Target Corporation CEO Gregg Steinhafel stepped in prodigious political poo when he gave $150,000 in corporate money to support Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who is anti-gay rights.  For several months, protests, boycotts, stockholder questioning, flash dances, Lady Gaga scoldings, and lame corporate apologies tarnished Target’s valuable brand.  It wasn’t pretty.

I support gay marriage, and criticized Target for using corporate money to support Emmer.  I even engaged in a quixotic little boycott myself.  So you might think I am pleased with Target.

And I am.  Target is finally on the morally defensible side of the issue.

But from a strict brand management standpoint, I don’t understand why Target is a) selling merchandise related to any politically contested issue and b) tying sales proceeds to any group engaged in political advocacy.   I don’t care what the issue is, or whether the issue position is pleasing or displeasing to me.  It’s just plain dumb idea for Target brand managers to put their enormously valuable brand in the middle of damaging political crossfire.

The lesson Target took away from 2008 seems to be “we need to show that Target is a gay-friendly brand.”  Wrong lesson.  The lesson they should have taken away from the 2008 debacle is “we need to keep our valuable brand out of all divisive political issues.”

- Loveland

Silver Parachutes and Super Pacs

In the blockbuster dystopian movie and novel The Hunger Games, when contestants are near death, wealthty sponsors are allowed to intervene by sending a silver parachute containing the life-giving substance they need to survive long enough to kill others. These powerful sponsors watch the bloody show stealthily from the sidelines until they are moved to use their wealth and power to save or waste lives. They play God.

In politics, we now have a remarkably similar system. The contemporary silver parachutes contain hundreds of millions of dollars in messaging for candidates near death. The sponsors are stealthy puppeteers possessing the power of political life and death. We call them Super PACs and 527 groups.

In Minnesota, gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer had a 527 group funded by Target, Best Buy and other corporations spending millions to fund his anti-gay crusade.

Nationally, Newt Gingrich has been near death countless times during the Republican primaries. But timely life-giving silver parachutes keep arriving from a billionaire Super PAC pupetteer, allowing Newt to continue to bloody his opponents.

Now, Mitt Romney, staggering from wounds inflicted largely by fellow conservatives and himself, has a D-Dayesque number of Super PAC silver parachutes lofting into his lap. This morning’s news advises that as much as $200 million in Super PAC money will be arriving to heal what ails him. The size of that number had me choking on my Cheerios. The money, a consultant cooly explains, will be used to “dislodge voters” from Barrack Obama.

President Obama will also have his own silver parachutes arriving to do his own “dislodging.”

A handful of powerful sponsors playing God in a game where lives are saved and lost. There are many problems here. The lack of limits. The lack of disclosure. The granting of individual rights to corporations.

Lord Acton warned, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The silver parachutes possessed by a relatively small club of powerful sponsors are drowning out the voices of those who are supposed to have an equal voice in a democracy. Are the silver parachutes corrupting? Absolutely.

- Loveland

“Neutrality” Declaration Off Target

Yesterday at Target’s annual meeting in Pittsburgh, Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel was peppered with questions about the divisive gay marriage measure that Target-funded legislators put on the 2012 Minnesota ballot.

Mr. Steinhafel couldn’t move the conversation back to corporate business, because the questions about Target’s politics kept coming and coming. This was frustrating for Steinhafel, because he was armed with a well-rehearsed talking point:

“We’re neutral.” It seems Target fancies itself as a veritable Switzerland. Steinhafel repeatedly declared that Target’s position on the gay marriage issue is neutral, neutral, neutral.

But here’s why that message isn’t working. When Switzerland is neutral in a war, they don’t fund either side. But Target is funding a group of candidates obsessed with banning gay marriage. The citizens/customers caught in the crossfire of the Target-financed culture war do not view Target’s funding decisions as an act of neutrality.

From a brand stewardship standpoint, corporations should keep their multi-billion brands out of the destructive crossfire of the most divisive issues of our times. As long as they continue to fund political combatants, repeating the word “neutral” is not going to stop them from suffering the collateral damage inherent in any war.

- Loveland

Target’s Lady Gaga Problem

Live by the Gaga, die by the Gaga.

The Target boycott situation has gotten fascinating this week. Pop diva Lady Gaga is now being widely credited for pressuring Target to back off of its policy of using its customers’ dollars to play politics. From numerous LGBT publications to the The Motley Foolto a Los Angeles Times editorial, the conventional wisdom has become this: Target has sworn off politics, and Gaga forced them to do it.

But when I look closely at what Target Executives are saying, that interpretation seems to be inaccurate, or at least premature. As near as I can tell, Target has not announced a change of policy, only a change in process (i.e. the formation of a committee that will decide down the line). If Target has actually “adopted new guidelines for donations to trade associations that prohibit the use of the company’s contributions in political campaigns,” as a Los Angeles Times editorial said, I sure haven’t heard it from Target yet.

For instance, here is what Target VP of Communications Dustee Jenkins told Billboard:

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Target’s PR By Committee

THIS POST HACKED.

Ratin’ Dayton

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About That Target Boycott

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Just doing the best I can to put the story in the proper context

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- The Mgmt.

 

The Price Of Entry For Retailers Who Want To Play Politics

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On Target Yet?

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Target Afield

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Off Target

Citizen’s Stadium. Public Park. Taxpayer Grounds. Bubbas’ Ballpark. Fans’ Field. Any of these names would have been more apt and fair for the Twins new ballpark than the official name announced yesterday, Target Field.

I’ve got nothing against Target. I regularly choose it as my favored place to buy loads of worthless crap. But really, should Target get all the glory?

After all, Target didn’t make the Twins new baseball playground possible. The taxpayers of Hennepin County did. When no one else, including Target, would step forward to fund the ballpark, the taxpayers of Hennepin County ended a bitter decade-long ballpark financing stalemate by shelling out $392 million, in the form of a 0.15 sales tax increase…often paid at Target. Without our Hennepin heroes, we’d still be suffering through faux relocation threats from our favorite subsidy starved billionaire.

But Target, not taxpayers, will get the glory. Gone are the days when we named community-funded stadiums after soldiers’ sacrifices, visionary leaders or the community’s team. No more Soldier’s Field, Memorial Stadium, Humphrey Metrodome or Yankee Stadium. Pucket Park and other quaint suggestions to name it after Twins heroes never stood a chance.

No, now we do with the name what we do with everything else in society, sell it to the highest bidder. Between Target Center and Target Field, we also learned yesterday that we will have Target Plaza. In coming months, expect to learn that the Target Light Rail will be delivering fans to the freshly rebranded Targetapolis. The aisles promise to be nice and wide.

Look, I’m a big boy. I know corporate-branded, community-funded assets are the way of the world these days. Hard to put the Genie back into that bottle. And goodness knows, it could have been way worse. Haliburton Grounds. Waste Management Field. Penthouse Park. 800-588-2300 Empire Stadium. But then again, perhaps if that could have yielded another million per year for Carl…

- Loveland

payroll systems fine

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