30 thoughts on “On Target Yet?

  1. Joe Loveland says:

    For those who wonder whether Emmer is only controversial with a crazy few, a new KSTP/Survey USA poll shows that Emmer has lost the 41%-33% lead he had over Dayton in May, and now trails Dayton 32%-46%. And Dayton obviously has a lot of baggage of his own.

  2. Newt says:

    This whole media-contrived dust up is sorely in need of critical analysis and sobriety.

    NO ONE of any worth will cease shopping at Target because Target contributed to Emmer.

    The real mainstream is neither supportive nor sympathetic to gay activism.

    I listened to the MPR rural gubernatorial candidates’ panel yesterday and Emmer – by far – received the loudest and most sustained applause. And farmers aren’t supposed to be his constituency.

    Steinhafel’s ultimate interest lies in neutering the tax-insatiable DFL. That’s why Emmer gets Target’s dough.

    The gay thing is a total side-show and irrelevant to target – and the rest of the world.

  3. Mike Kennedy says:

    No disagreement here. Emmer has said some wacky things, and, like Dayton, has baggage. Neither would be a good governor, in my opinion.

    But I’m surprised by your position on companies supporting candidates. You gonna boycott ALL companies that make political donations?

    Also, let’s open this up. Why shouldn’t unions do the same? Because members support a particular candidate? Well, what if most shareholders approve?

    Besides, I belonged to a union for several years. No one ever checked with me before making a political donations on my behalf.

    Maybe because of my last name they assumed I would support the liberal candidate.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      As I’ve said, I’m not going to choose to give my money to stores that use my money to support candidates I oppose. For me, that’s a logical choice that’s not particularly hard to execute. Because others will make similar choices, both on the right and left, its self-defeating for retail businesses to bring their valuable brands into the highly divisive political arena, where the brands get tarnished by association. It’s like driving your prized sports car into the middle of a gang fight and being surprised that it sustains heavy damage.

      Unions playing politics don’t have anywhere near the same kind of operational vulnerability as retail corporations playing politics. Retail stores are more easily identifiable by consumers and the alternatives are more apparent. If I want to avoid Best Buy, it’s extremely easy. If I want to avoid the AFL-CIO, it’s very difficult. The Best Buys of the world are foolish to play Karl Rove, because it effectively pokes a finger in the they eye of their coveted customer base, and their customers can in a snap switch to Costco, amazon.com or other readily available alternatives.

      And again it’s a bad idea for corporations to associate their brands with liberal politicians too. Target and Best Buy supporting Obama and Pelosi would be an equally self-defeating brand management decision, for the same reasons.

      1. Mike Kennedy says:

        You miss the point. My question was should unions be included in the laws that limit corporations, including unions, from donating money to political campaigns.

        The question was not one of PR but political influence. Should both be treated the same? I’m saying yes. What are you saying?

      2. Joe Loveland says:

        I intentionally wrote a post on the PR implications of the corporate donations, rather than a post about the legal logic of allowing the corporate contributions. Reason: As a non-lawyer who doesn’t follow election law, I don’t have an informed opinion on that subject. And I try, quite unsuccessfully, to know what I don’t know.

    2. PM says:

      I agree with Joe on this…and, besides, if Steinhafel really feels strongly about Emmer and his positions, he can use his own money to support him. If he can make the case to them, then all of the exec’s at target could support Emmer as well.

      Should corporations really have all the rights of persons/citizens? I mean, foreign nationals are persons (not citizens) under US Law–they enjoy the right to free speech, but are not allowed to either vote in elections or make political contributions. Why are corporations so special?

  4. leftymn says:

    I am not sure if I and my wife are of “worth” as defined by Newt, but we arent shopping at Target anymore for the time being. We probably spent alot there, in fact we were also shareholders up until last year when we sold the shares which had nothing to do with this matter obviously. This is simply my choice as a consumer. I can find what i need at many other retailers and feel no loss whatsoever with not going to Target. I am sure they won’t miss me, nor will I them.

  5. Maren says:

    Joe – Just a note of support, here. I agree with you. This is the first of what I fear will be many instances where corporations will find themselves at odds with customers over political issues under this brand new law. There are people hired who take those dollars and put them to work on a political agenda for the interests of the corporate side without publicly stomping on the will of consumers. Can anyone say: Lobbyists? There’s a reason you keep your politics behind closed doors. You just shouldn’t mix politics with Michael Graves-designed kumquat peelers.

  6. I’ve seen little exploration of why it was Target who received so much of the attention on this matter. A friend suspects it’s because people simply expected more of Target, based on its track record of positive community giving, support for equal rights among its employees and the like. I’m inclined to believe that.

    Any other thoughts?

    1. PM says:

      I would agree. I think that similar expectations for best buy (for example) do not quite exist in the same way in our collective minds. Maybe we would feel similarly about General Mills, but probably not about Cargill.

      So maybe Target is a victim of its previous positive PR? Is it better to be an unloved company than a loved one?

    2. Joe Loveland says:

      Other primary reasons Target and Best Buy are particularly vulnerable are that a) there are easily accessible and readily apparent alternatives to those stores; and b) they are ultra-familiar brands, therefore their offensive politicking sticks in your memory right away, and stays there longer.

      In contrast, consider those factors as they related to Cold Spring Granite. A company like that has less vulnerability than a big retail brand like Best Buy and Target.

  7. Joe Loveland says:

    From today’s LA Times:

    Some analysts think Target’s experience may make companies more reluctant to get involved, but many others — including prominent business lobbyists — say the more likely result is that more corporations will seek out ways to contribute anonymously.

  8. Joe Loveland says:

    To my point about the reputational liability associated with the contribution being deeper than just an HR issue about gay rights, today’s Star Tribune:

    Target back in the cross hairs over political contribution

    Opponents of Target Corp.’s political donation to a group supporting Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer are opening a new battlefront.

    THE LATEST: Union members rallied outside the company’s downtown Minneapolis store Thursday to protest Emmer’s positions on immigration. A few protesters passed out leaflets to shoppers and passersby.

    WHY EMMER? Emmer, a state representative from Delano, has praised the recent Arizona law that cracks down on illegal immigrants, and he has sponsored English-only bills in the Legislature.

    WHY TARGET? Members of the Service Employees International Union are taking aim at Target because the union contends it is a company that “seeks the business of immigrant families and then support[s] anti-immigrant politicians.”

  9. Mike Kennedy says:

    Go figure. A union protesting against a corporation. That breaks a lot of new ground and I’m sure shocks a lot of people. I hear crickets somewhere.

  10. Joe Loveland says:

    Yeah, I guess you’re right. Target and Best Buy surely don’t care about their high visibility politicking offending any of the 12% of Americans in a union, the 60% of Americans who approve of unions, or the 45 million Hispanic American consumers.

  11. Mike Kennedy says:

    You assume a lot. First of all, it’s idiotic statements like the one made above (I guess by the Strib) that the company supports “anti-immigrant politicians.”

    This is just a flat out lie. No politician I know of — no matter how radical right — proposes banning immigrants. They propose an orderly process of immigrants applying to come here legally. Big difference.

    Second, people make decisions based on their own economic self interest. Those who find lower prices at Target will continue to shop there — union or not. I see Wal Mart suffers a lot from union picketing and demonizing.

    Third, the rest of the country doesn’t much give a shit about Target supporting Emmer. My liberal friends in other states, including my parents, couldn’t care less about Minnesota politics. They have their own to worry about.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      To be fair to the Strib, they were quoting the union’s contention about ‘anti-immigrant politiicians.’ And to be fair to the union, I suspect that many of the 70% of Hispanic Americans who strongly oppose the AZ law do indeed think the AZ is anti-immigrant. If you were an immigrant, or someone who looked like an immigrant, randomly questioned because of how the color of your skin, you might even come to that conclusion. And it might get under your skin that the money you spend at certain stores goes to politicians demagoguing that issue.

      Again, the short-term financial impact of the boycott is just not that important. That’s bean counter thinking, not brand management thinking. The fact that the controversy is being broadly covered over several weeks is what is important, because that drip, drip, drip of negative publicity is eroding one of Target’s and Best Buy’s most valuable assets, their sterling reputations which have, until now, earned them so much customer trust and loyalty.

      Target has invested billions over the years crafting a brand known for, among other things, generosity, tolerance and broad community inclusivity – a George Bailey of sorts. That valuable brand personality will yield broader community trust and loyalty over the long-run than a brand known for being a brass knuckle political player, a Karl Rove of sorts.

      More people in the community will trust and be loyal over the long-run to a George Bailey than a Karl Rove, hence the brand peril inherent in the politicization of Target and Best Buy.

  12. Mike Kennedy says:

    You might be right. But I like bean counting — gave up PR back in 1995. It wasn’t qualitative enough for me.

    Brand management, I assume, can be a good thing, overall and nice to have. But as I said before, Wal Mart has been demonized over a long period and marches on successfully, as I am inclined to believe will be the fate of Target.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      I don’t think anyone is saying that the politiciziation of Target and Best Buy will drive them out of business. It clearly won’t. There will be plenty of beans left to count. But politicking could lead the Big Boxers to “suboptimize,” as my corporate pals would say. That is, leave money on the table that would have been theirs if they had managed their brand more prudently. For company’s that obsess over every fraction of percentage on every earnings report, even relatively small long-term slippage in revenue forgone matters a lot.

      1. Newt says:

        When you’re backing pro-business politicians, it’s pretty hard to sub-optimize. The alternative is to back anti-business politicians and be their friend.

      2. Joe Loveland says:

        For the sake of argument, let’s assume that you are correct, Newt, that a low-tax/low-services agenda, and the poor infrastructure, education system and safety net that comes from that agenda, is what is always best for business. I feel strongly that that’s short-sighted and incorrect, but let’s assume for the moment that Emmer’s race to the bottom is actually what is best for business.

        EVEN THEN, retail businesses publicly playing Karl Rove or James Carville with their brands is bad business strategy.

        Whichever candidate Best Buy chooses to publicly push in this race, roughly two-thirds of its customers will disagree with them, a portion of them vehemently so. Playing politics with the valuable Best Buy brand puts the brand in the middle of the most divisive arguments in our society – abortion, gay rights, welfare, corporate welfare, religion, immigration, race, etc.

        When you do that, collateral damage to customer relationships is not just possible, it is inevitable.

        We’ve all seen those advertisements that say something like “A portion of your Best Buy purchases today will go to support Toys for Tots.” That is good brand building, because virtually all of Best Buy’s customers support that cause. It associates the brand with a unifying position in the community.

        But when Best Buy effectively advertises to its customers “A portion of your Best Buy purchases today go to Joe Politician, with his a sky high disapproval rating and positions that many of you feel are a threat to your family and community,” that alienates a large portion of the customer base. It associates the venerable Best Buy brand with divisive arguments. By publicly playing politics, Best Buy is eroding its brand and its long-term business position in the community.”

        There is a very good reason I and most others never bring up politics at family, neighborhood or community gatherings. Because it erodes highly valued relationships. Retail businesses like Target and Best Buy aren’t being “pro-business” by eroding their most valuable business relationships.

  13. Joe Loveland says:

    The latest from AP shows that when retailers enter the political arena they risk conservative customer backlash too:


    A GOP state lawmaker said the controversy, including protests and calls for a boycott by gay leaders, has put Target in a bind.

    “They’re darned if they do something and they’re darned if they don’t,” said Rep. Marty Seifert, a Republican from Marshall.

    Contributors to a conservative Facebook page on the controversy also warned the company of a backlash from the right.

    “I will not boycott Target unless they crater to the demand of the gay activists,” said one writer. The page grew exponentially on Friday from fewer than 500 fans to more than 9,000 as the controversy moved into its third week.

    Conservatives are watching to see whether Target bends to the pressure, said Kelly O’Keefe, a brand expert at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va.

    “They’re likely to raise the ire of a different constituency of customers and get themselves in a never-ending cycle of alienating people,” he said. “A better thing is for them to swear off any future investment in elections.”

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