The group has made corporate influence on government a key cause this year, and is using Target to drum up petition signups.
"Why is Target trying to buy elections?" That question is being asked in online ads from the political arm of left-leaning advocacy group MoveOn.org. The group has made corporate influence on government a key cause this year, and the hope is that the nationwide discount retailer can serve as a symbol of that corporate influence. A secondary but no less important goal for MoveOn is to build its list of supporters through a petition linked to in the ads.
At issue is Target's $150,000 donation to MN Forward, a Minnesota-based group that, according to its website, funds candidates who support "tax reform, spending reform, and ensuring our children receive a world-class education." Through MN Forward's funding and endorsement of Republican Tom Emmer, the GOP candidate for Minnesota Governor, MoveOn argues Target has in effect donated to an anti-gay marriage candidate. Emmer's site states, "As a legislator, I have consistently supported the constitutional marriage amendment that protects traditional marriage."
The MoveOn petition proclaims, "I won't shop at Target until it stops spending money on elections. Companies like Target should stay out of elections, period." MoveOn claims the petition has been signed by over 250,000 people.
The organization launched the anti-Target ads early last week, according to Daniel Mintz, MoveOn.org's campaign director.
"The fundamental problem is actually not about [Emmer's] platform, but rather about the fact that Target can spend $150,000 influencing elections," said Mintz.
Despite the true focus of the campaign - corporate influence - Target serves as a recognizable brand on which MoveOn can hinge its cause. The campaign's display ad creative takes advantage of this in its use of red and white, Target's signature colors.
"Is the Target brand ready for politics?" inquires another MoveOn ad. Said Mintz, "We're trying to send a message, a warning...that corporations who do this are going to make themselves targets." The intention, he added, is to "remind Target and other corporations that rely on brand loyalty...that when they meddle in the political process, there will be real consequences for their brand."
MoveOn is running Google display and search ads along with Facebook ads in conjunction with the anti-Target campaign. Many of the Google ads are targeted to zip code-based searches for Target stores. The company is also aiming Facebook ads at people listing Target as their employer in their profiles.
MoveOn also sent an e-mail to supporters recently suggesting, "Target just gave a huge contribution to a anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-progressive candidate for governor in Minnesota. Will you send a message to Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel that you won't shop at Target unless they stop trying to buy elections?" A link drove people to the petition. According to Mintz, MoveOn has also encouraged supporters to put pressure on Target by posting negative comments about the company on Target’s Facebook page or elsewhere online.
"We've been encouraging our members...to let Target know how displeased they are," said Mintz. The organization also promoted protests held August 6 outside 1,100 Target stores.
In response to comments or questions about its political contributions posed to Target through Twitter, the company has pointed people to its guest relations department, and linked to an August 5 letter from its CEO explaining the donation and apologizing for affecting its employees "in a way I did not anticipate."
MoveOn will continue running the ads, at least until Target reneges on the contribution in question, or makes a bolder move displaying a turnaround in its policy on political donations, suggested Mintz.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
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