And the biggest Brand mistake of the month goes to — Target.

Congratulations to Target on being the dumbest Brand of the month — possibly the year.

After the Supreme Court decision that rendered corporate campaign contributions legal and limitless, Target made a contribution to a Minnesota politician named Tom Emmer. Emmer is against gay marriage — and while I disagree with his beliefs — he does have a right to them.

Target’s contribution, however, has created a serious issue for their brand that may snowball out of control. While many politicians are smart enough to avoid hot-button issues like marriage – for both electability and contributions – Emmer embraces them. Instead of making donations to a generic candidate , who happens to oppose Gay Rights, Target stupidly entered the fray of the Gay Marriage debate by funding someone who is actively campaigning against them. Brilliant.

To make things even worse, Emmer is a supporter ( both financially and personally ) of Bradlee Dean, an unconventional minister / rock musician with some fairly extreme views on homosexuality, including the supporting the practice of executing gays and lesbians.

So Target contributed money to Emmer, Emmer said some things that are offensive to many of their customers, and then Emmer gave some money in turn to Dean who said things are beyond offensive to even more of their customers. That’s a fine mess they’re in.

Target is going to be giving tons of money to hundreds of candidates , because we live in a society where cash contributions mean political access and favors. Few people will have the foresight, or ability, to figure out which of the people they need to support to get some patronage are – for lack of a better phrase – polarizing assholes. This is a sad fact, but its unavoidable.

Anyone in PR and branding with half a brain knows that mistakes happen and people can forgive. But instead of condemning the situation, saying “This is awful – as are the comments”, backstepping out of the situation, and then making a 10x contribution to a politically related yet entirely non-offensive charity ( like a halfway house for at-risk LGBT teens ), Target said nothing. Days later they issued a statement that basically says “So what? Deal with it. We’ll contribute equally to politicians on both sides as we see fit, and this isn’t our fault.”.

Sorry, that’s not good enough. In fact this is bad, downright stupid, and will hurt the Target brand dearly. Instead of distancing themself from hate-speech and a politicized situation, Target is defending their actions. Consumers are now becoming outraged not only at the politics of the situation, but the arrogance of the corporate stance.

In a few weeks, Target will probably be forced to make amends and have a press conference where they apologize to hurting customers but they did no real wrong, and then make some sort of token goodwill gesture or contribution. It will be a touching moment that is perfectly executed after being orchestrated by a PR fix-it consultancy along with a gay lobby group that makes them realize that they can severely hurt the brand and bottom-line. Unfortunately this will be a forced moment – and one that should have come much sooner.

Making contributions to candidates is a dangerous game; your brand can become tied up in political nightmares no one should face. Most large contributers are smart enough to donate to Political Action Committees (PACS) that are rather nebulous — Save the Earth, Save the Environment, Save the Puppies, etc — then let them deal with funneling money to political campaigns. In fact, many PACs are nothing but intermediaries and shell groups designed to make political contributions to candidates with controversial stances non-offensive. Contributions like this can ensure candidates get their payoffs, and contributors get their patronage. Why Target strayed from this puzzles me.

Target injected its brand into a heated political topic, and shouldn’t have. Target had a lot of opportunities to backstep and pull out and they didn’t – in fact, they made things much worse. The subject matter of the debate is irrelevant — this could have been healthcare, sick puppies, immigration, or really anything — a mass-market brand should always come across as politically neutral.

Bruce Schneier should be Obama's CTO

Everyone likes dropping names on who Obama should hire as the ‘National CTO’. Here’s mine: Bruce Schneier should be Obama’s CTO. He’s one of the few people in the country that doesn’t just know technology, but fundamentally understand it — and more importantly, the implications.

A lot of great names have been thrown around, but they make little sense to me.

The most popular name right now is Vint Cerf. He may be the father of the internet, but his skills and qualifications are in telecommunications. While telecom is integral to Technology programs, its really just a component. I think he’d be a great national SysAdmin or tech guru, but CTO?

A lot of people say Bill Gates – while I do admire him, he’s a software person. More importantly, would he really be able to divorce himself from his allegiance and interests in Microsoft?

The same thing goes to Eric Schmidt of Google; despite my opposition to them in light of our Patent/Trademark issues, would the head of an internet company be appropriate? And could he really be neutral , in light of the massive lobbying activities Google has undergone on everything from advertising to M&A to the radio spectrum ?

Jerry Yang could probably do a great job of making people use Change.Gov every day, but is that what a CTO is about?

Fundamentally, CTO is a management position, one that seeks to ensure the technology planning and infrastructure best delivers on the business goals. A high profile CEO from a tech firm, or CTO from a web firm may not have those qualifications .

The CTO would likely be overlooking

– Long range technology planning
– The integration of national departments ( ie: information sharing between FBI, NSA, CIA, DHS etc )
– The likely digitization of medical records
– The shift to , and implications of, new energy resources
– The role of technology in education, communications, and even national defense
– the list goes on

The only person I can think of that could handle that is Bruce Schneier. He’s not famous for running a huge company, inventing a specific technology, or having his name in the news — he’s famous for being a security expert , and one that is right. Instead of being a specialist in specific areas of technology, he’s someone that understands how different pieces of technology and systems are all interwoven; how they create a grid and affect one another; and for (often) brutal attacks on bad implementations.

That’s the kind of technology leader we *need* in government; I can only hope — whomever Obama ultimately chooses — its the kind that we get.