The Politics of Shopping

September 29, 2010

Political elections can put businesses in compromising positions, especially when your business makes most of its money through paid advertising.

Take for instance DailyCandy, a daily newsletter geared toward fashionistas, foodies, and well, ladies who have a hankering for luxury. So when subscribers received an e-mail from DailyCandy titled “A Message from Meg Whitman – Dedicated E-mail,” many were surprised to say the least.

The e-mail was pretty standard as far as paid political ads go. Whitman gives her basic spiel about how she’s going to save California from economic ruin and as former CEO of eBay, she’s got the know-how to create jobs, balance budgets, and various other skills to fix California.

On the whole, the e-mail was rather mild (dare we say a little boring?), but some DailyCandy readers got very upset that they had been pinged with a paid political ad instead of the usual tips on for getting eyelash extensions.

Readers lit up Twitter, causing DailyCandy to make an apology on its Facebook page: “Sorry if today’s political ad offended you. Please know it was not an endorsement. We hear you loud and clear: no politics from here on out.”

A slew of comments ensued, such as “Yes, I was definitely offended. I don’t subscribe to DailyCandy for political ads/endorsements, etc.” and “I don’t like it when my fashion sources and my retailers try to push their politics on me.”

But for the most part, readers felt they were able to make their own decisions about politics, and while they thought it was weird to get a political e-mail, they also noted how easy it is for subscribers to either unsubscribe or simply delete any email they receive with an unappetizing subject line. As this subscriber notes, it’s frustrating to be bombarded by political ads, but in the case of DailyCandy, the fix is pretty easy.

“I realize this is campaign season, but I’m sick and tired of seeing political ads all over the place. If I read DailyCandy, I don’t expect to have to deal with this crap yet again. As a reader, political ads so placed simply turn me off to the message you’re trying to send. I delete the email, don’t click to the site, and probably ignore what you send out for the next couple of days. I suspect quite a few others do the same thing.”

The game changes, however, when the goods and/or services in question are indispensable to your life.

Jaime Starling, a resident of Minnesota recently had a political tiff with major retailer Target after the company came out in support of Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who is anti-gay marriage, adoption, and on the whole, just not down with gay folks.

Political art

Political crop art submission at the Minnesota State Fair. Photo by Jenni Ripley

When the news broke that Target donated approximately $150,000 to Emmer’s campaign, Starling returned to the store a few coupons she had received from the retailer. Interestingly enough, Target responded to Starling’s return with a letter signed by “Crystal,” who apparently works in Target’s guest relations department. The letter thanked Starling for her comments and sent her a link to the company’s corporate press room, where she could access more information about Target’s civic activities and political contributions.

Granted, Starling lives in Minneapolis and has managed to find her daily essentials at local supermarkets, specialty shops, and the like. (She even hit up a Salvation Army, which sells Target’s donated close-out and damaged items.) But Starling is lucky. She’s got choices. Target is one of those stores that isn’t easy to boycott, especially when you live in an area where shopping choices are incredibly limited (think San Bernardino, CA or Sparks, NV, where each town’s respective Target is the dominant shopping destination).

“It’s much easier here than in the rural areas! In fact Target is the main source for a lot of people in Minnesota and Iowa. I think in those situations people sort of hold their nose when they shop, just like the do when they vote for a stinker in their political party! Granted, the Twin Cities holds the bulk of the liberals and the rural areas the pro-Emmers and anti-gay factions,” Starling says.

“Since I’m the straight girl in a gay house, we’re currently boycotting until after the election and then figuring out what to do from there. In the meantime, yes, we’re actually living without the store rather easily, but come winter when we’re dying to walk more than ten steps without slipping on ice, it will be a different matter!”