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