Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

The fixation on Target

See if you can pick out the difference here. Target gives a $100,000 check to the pro-business group MN Forward. Best Buy also gives MN Forward $100,000. The group then turns around and uses that money to help buy ads supporting Republican Tom Emmer, who's running for Minnesota governor -- except it's Target that's getting most of the criticism for supporting Emmer, who opposes gay marriage. What's going on?

Target is masterful at branding, but that meticulousness has made it more vulnerable in this controversy. Consumers have such a strong sense of what they'll get when they shop at Target -- edgy design, value, a big box store that's not Wal-Mart -- that any departure from that picture is going to create a stronger backlash than otherwise.

When I talked with's Ilyse Hogue yesterday, she was pretty upfront that Target is getting treated differently. The reason, she said, is that MoveOn members were taken aback when they learned about Target's political contributions. Liberal shoppers somehow think Target shares their values, and that perception created an attachment to Target's brand. Best Buy just doesn't touch that nerve.

In 2008, Jennifer Reingold wrote a piece in Fortune profiling Target, which gave her a rare look at the company's executive suite. Gregg Steinhafel, the current chief executive, was on the cusp of taking over from Robert Ulrich, who ran the company for 14 years. Here's a scene from that story that should tell you how seriously Target takes its branding:

During a recent interview in his tidy, light-filled office at Target's Minneapolis headquarters, Steinhafel's Midwestern reserve fluctuates between polite and downright uncomfortable. But then I cross the line. The offense: asking how Steinhafel, 53, who will take over as CEO from Ulrich on May 1, differs from his longtime mentor. The room grows silent. His mouth gets thin. Arms cross. "This isn't about me," he says. Long, awkward pause. "We're all a little bit nervous when we are talking too much about [ourselves]," he allows, finally. "It should all be about the brand."

In the wake of Target's donation to MN Forward, the company's been asked to talk a lot about itself. So far, it's not saying much.

By Jia Lynn Yang  |  August 19, 2010; 5:31 PM ET
Categories:  Best Buy , Campaign finance , Target  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: says MSNBC won't run its Target ad
Next: An uptick in mergers but regulators are close behind


I didn't know about Best Buy. I'll boycott them too. Thanks for the info.

Posted by: dorklord | August 19, 2010 7:33 PM | Report abuse

Single issue politics vs. Candidates that take issues on a number of positions = no win situations. Maybe Target can encourage Emmer to be open to civil union equality, while still opposing opening up his religion's concept of marriage to homosexuals. $100,000 has to be worth something!

This is why we all business owners should be independents...contribute on issues, not people.

Posted by: staticvars | August 20, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.

characters remaining

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company