Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lady Gaga Helps Target Be More Thoughtful

I kind of don't get the whole Madonna -- Mickey-Mouse-Club pop music thing, the synthesizers, auto-tune for singers who can't sing, the whole dance-routine, matching-onstage-uniforms business. I don't even know why some singers smile when they sing, it looks silly to me, are they musicians or actors? I don't really get Lady Gaga, but it doesn't matter, I'm not a kid, I don't have to be cool any more.

On the other hand, when I first saw her on Saturday Night Live a couple of years ago, in that crazy outfit with the anti-gravity hoops, and she sat at the piano and sang, I thought she sounded good -- she plays well, sings well, has good stage presence, the songs seemed good, there's just an awful lot of ... crap ... involved. At any rate, Lady Gaga made an impassioned speech at the 2009 National Equality March march, and has been a consistently powerful advocate of LGBT rights. Her latest hit, which entered the charts at Number One, "Born This Way," is a kind of anthem and call for pride no matter who you love. In fact, "Born This Way" has been stuck in my head ever since she performed it on the Grammies. Not a bad tune.

You might remember that the Target corporation has made some ugly choices in recent years, investing in some anti-gay artists and organizations. They have given a lot of money to rightwing causes. Target knows where the money is, in this day and age Lady Gaga is a ridiculously huge star, and it would be better for the company and the star to make a deal than to pose as bad guys in relation to her. Sounds like a train wreck coming, right?

Billboard has it:
Gaga spoke to the issue for the first time in this interview, telling Billboard that she wasn't comfortable with the Target partnership when it first came up as a possibility, and that she met with "the entire executive staff" at Target, along with her manager Troy Carter.

"That discussion was one of the most intense conversations I've ever had in a business meeting," Gaga says. "Part of my deal with Target is that they have to start affiliating themselves with LGBT charity groups and begin to reform and make amends for the mistakes they've made in the past...our relationship is hinged upon their reform in the company to support the gay community and to redeem the mistakes they've made supporting those groups."

The reality may be a bit more complicated than that, however. Target VP of communications Dustee Jenkins spoke with Billboard at length -- the full interview transcript is available at Billboard.biz -- expressing Target's excitement to be working with Lady Gaga and portraying the controversial donations as more of a lack of procedural oversight than anything else. Lady Gaga Talks Target Deal for 'Born This Way'

Lady Gaga released an exclusive version of her new CD at Target and let Target customers download the "Born This Way" single for free, initially alarming LGBT fans who make up a large and important part of her audience (she says she is bisexual). But this is really pretty good.
Jenkins says to that end, Target has created a new "policy committee" to review such matters. The committee doesn't include [Target CEO Gregg] Steinhafel and has yet to have its first quarterly meeting, but Jenkins directed Billboard to a page on Target's corporate site that had "in the last week or two" posted new guidelines for Target's political contributions.

To be clear, Target is not all bad news for the LGBT community. Jenkins noted a recent interview with Target director of enterprise strategy Daniel Duty, an openly gay employee who spoke to Dot429.com about what a great employer Target was for gay professionals. And Jenkins also mentioned that Target had already earmarked "almost a half-million dollars" to spend on various organizations within the LGBT community, name-checking Out and Equal Workplace, as well as local Minnesota groups such as Twin Cities Pride and Project 515.

Without a doubt, those dollars will be cherished and put to good use by those organizations. But in the world of corporate cause spending, it's worth contextualizing that figure. Jenkins says Target spends $3 million per week on community causes, which means its spend on LGBT issues represents roughly less than 2% of that budget.

Here's the question -- is it too much to expect a corporation to have a conscience? It's a serious question, given their new power to give secret political contributions. Is there any chance in the world that a gigantic corporation like Target would make business decisions based on what's right, rather than what will engorge the dividends for stockholders?

Billboard sounds skeptical.

On the other hand ...
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."

They may well want to be, as Gaga will undoubtedly hear from her beloved fans if that thoughtfulness doesn't present itself. She repeatedly mentions her love for her fans and her desire to "assault" the senses of mainstream America with a pro-LGBT sensibility. "It's so important to me, please, to clear up any misconceptions or concerns," she says of the Target relationship. "Whatever you can do to assure my fans and the gay community that I have their back, please do."

There are two levels here. Target can present the appearance of siding with the LGBT community, packaging certain things in ways that allow that demographic to shop without feeling they are subsidizing their own execution. And it looks like they have that down, there is a "policy committee" that will probably do nothing, and you will be seeing Lady Gaga's face on Target ads, I'm sure. The second level though has to do with where the money goes. Though they have earmarked a certain budget for LGBT groups, Target executives don't promise they will stop supporting rightwing politicians. How will it affect the chain's profits to play both sides of the fence? I imagine they support the conservative politicians in exchange for tax breaks if they get elected, and the company simply can't afford not to invest in something as directly profitable as that. It is possible though that Target's support in the public eye of Lady Gaga and the broader LGBT community will help swing the tide of public opinion in a positive way, so that politicians find that gay-hating costs them votes.

I've got to see this as a positive thing. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but I think Lady Gaga has done a good thing here, nudging Target's PR trajectory into a new and better direction.


Post a Comment

<< Home