Target, which we in Minnesota refer to as The Mother Ship (as in “We’re out of everything. Time to visit the Mother Ship”), has a mixed record with respect to Gay Rights. A few years back, Target made a major indirect donation to Tom Emmer’s gubernatorial campagin; Emmer is very anti Gay. You may remember that event because it is when Lady Gaga killed an album deal with the company as a way of showing her support for Gay Rights. Also, there is the more recent controversy over Frank Ocean’s album, although the reasons for Target dropping that album from its line are not entirely clear.
Well, cooler heads have prevailed at least to some extent, with Target now selling same-sex greeting cards and, most recently, using a same-sex theme in its advertising for a wedding registry.
When I first moved to Minnesota, Targets were not everywhere in the US, but they were everywhere here. There were so many Targets that you could not use them as landmarks when giving directions. If you said “Go north and turn right at the Target” you might was well say “Go north and turn right at any major intersection you see” because there is a Target at every major intersection. In those days, people who used a Target credit card knew that a significant percent (was it 5%?) of their purchase went into a fund to support education, and more than that, credit hard holders could specify which school district received the funding. Now, however, the percentage is much lower, but at least they still do it.
One of the things that Target uses to differentiate itself from its main competitors, such as Walmart, is style. I’m told that Target keeps its aisles wide and open while Walmart fills its open space with stuff on sale. This provides Walmart with more income (because the amount of stuff you put out for sale is a factor in how much you sell) but it keeps Target customers subtly more happy about going to Target. In this and other ways, the two companies have different approaches to brand loyalty. Only slightly more subtle difference is the cultural and political aspect of brand loyalty. When I would visit relatives in the Ozarks, everyone would be all about Walmart, everyone had their Sam Walton story, and Walmart was without a doubt The Mother Ship in that region, whence Walmart comes. In Minnesota, the contrast is starker. Walmart is conservative, Republican, and Dixie-South, while Target is liberal, DFLish, and local. The thing about cramming the aisles vs. not seems to fit well with this contrast somehow. Free Market vs. Good Service, or something.
It is for this reason that Minnesotans really did become upset when Emmer received support from Target. Lots of Minnesotans supported Emmer, are against Gay Rights, and are otherwise misguided in their politics and social policy. But Progressives, DFLers, Liberals, pro-Gay Rights people were the Target customers, and we were shocked, chagrined, and upset when that happened.
So we applied pressure and it seems to be paying off.
I’ve known a handful of people who worked at Target, as executives. They are all at least liberal, some downright progressive and overtly pro-Gay Rights. People who graduate from the local colleges with certain degrees, and especially from MBA programs, know that the process of applying at Target for a management (or similar) job involves an evaluation of one’s ability to “fit the culture.” That culture mainly has to do with the overall management strategy at Target and is more about the nature of teams, approaches to organization, and attitudes about customer service, all of which I’ve heard a very different from other large corporations in the area. I’ve also gotten the sense, however, that it is also somewhat political. Target is more liberal inside and out, than other major retailers. But, they are also a business and I’m not entirely sure that the Management embraces a liberal political attitude when making decisions, or at least not consistently.
And that is somewhat appropriate since Target is not a political non-profit. It is a retail corporation. But still, it is also The Mother Ship, but not everybody’s Mother Ship. It is my Mother Ship and I want it to behave.
Of the last five times I needed to buy clothing, I went to JC Penny’s instead of Target because of recent politically shaded decisions by the two corporations. I’d never been to a JC Penny’s to buy my clothing before. I’m not the only person around here to did that.
When it comes to the politics of retail businesses, voting day is every day.
Hat Tip to Skeptically Money for pointing me to this story.