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:
Jenkins says she “didn’t think” Gaga’s feedback had resulted in direct policy change, but that she was one of many voices Target had considered in order to better understand issues concerning the LGBT community….
Jenkins says Target is now committed to being more “thoughtful” — she used the word 11 times in a half-hour interview — about the issue of political donations. But when asked directly, she couldn’t guarantee that Target wouldn’t end up making future donations to candidates with anti-gay voting records. “No,” Jenkins says, “but what I can say is that we’re going to use our policy committee to ensure that we’re being more thoughtful.“
Thoughtful, thoughtful, thoughtful, thoughtful, thoughtful, thoughtful, thoughtful, thoughtful, thoughtful, thoughtful, thoughtful. Baby, we were born this way. But in all of those thoughtful words, I am not hearing “we will no longer give to political candidates.” In fact, MinnPost’s Joe Kimball was told that Target has developed criteria, which are listed in the article, to guide future corporate donations to candidates.
Still, perception is reality in public relations, and Gaga’s victory lap in the news media this week has created a perception that Target is done with playing politics. For instance, the Nonprofit Quarterly characterizes Target’s new Gaga-driven policy as “a new policy that prohibits donations from retail giant Target to be used by trade groups to influence elections or ballot measures.”
That doesn’t exactly square with the wiggle room Target executives seem to be trying to preserve.
I am not exactly sure what Target’s actual position is at this point, but the mushiness about the Committee and the Gaga victory lap seem to have put them in a newly precarious position.
On the one hand, if Target has finally pulled its brand out of politics, they are getting absolutely no public credit for it. Gaga is getting all the credit, because she is willing to speak directly, while Target executives are still mumbling circular process-speak.
On the other hand, if Target plans to keep its brand in the political firing line, they can now look forward to Gaga and her followers leading a new, higher visibility boycott, charging that Target broke the promise that millions of Americans are reading about this week.
And if Target still isn’t sure about its policy, it needs to make a decision. Events are overtaking the company, making a tricky situation much more perilous. Target’s new Committee on Thoughtfulness needs to immediately form a policy, and communicate it clearly.