It's a "teachable moment," they say.
The social media firestorm produced by Lowe's decision to end its TV ads for TLC's "All-American Muslim" program was red-hot all last week. The retailer halted the spots in response to an e-mail campaign by a conservative Christian group in Florida.
Numerous upset consumers have tweeted "#Loweshatesconsumers" in the past few days. A "Boycott Lowe's Home Improvement" Facebook page has attracted 6,000 likes. So-called Occupy Lowe's protests are being planned around the country for this weekend. Others have taken to social media to support Lowe's right to pull the ads, sometimes utilizing nationalistic rhetoric that has fomented against Muslims and Middle Easterners in general since 9/11.
Lowe's has since apologized for the way it's handled the advertising controversy. Travel site Kayak has found itself in a similar conundrum, after deciding to quit advertising on "All-American Muslim."
Lisa Mabe is founder of Hewar Social Communications, a Muslim marketing and public relations agency based in Washington, DC. Speaking with ClickZ about the Lowe's embroilment, Mabe sounded cautiously optimistic that the brand can repair its relationship with American Muslims through digital and traditional media channels.
"It may take Lowe's a long time to clean up the mess they’ve made," she said. "Despite the current outlook, the retailer now has a big opportunity to reestablish itself as a company that welcomes and values all customers, while trying to rebuild a relationship with the Muslim community."
There's no doubt that Lowe's was put in a strange situation after the Florida Family Association orchestrated its email campaign. The Mooresville, NC-based retail chain probably never imagined a TV spot on the cable channel TLC could create such a brouhaha.
Whatever one might say about its reaction in pulling ads from "All-American Muslim," it appears to have been a business decision based on the idea of not offending the Christian segment of its customer audience. It's impossible to currently know whether stopping the ads created more brand haters among American Muslims or appeased a greater number of Christian loyalists who were opposed to the TLC show.
Speaking with ClickZ, Sabiha Ansari, a rep for American Muslim Consumer conferences, cited a joint study by Ogilvy & Mather, JWT, and DinarStandard that recently found American Muslims skew young and educated with a spending power of $170 billion. Ansari said another Ogilvy study found that 86 percent of American Muslims who identified themselves as "extremely brand loyal" felt neglected by companies.
"Any company has the right to decide where to put their advertising dollars, but not sure in this case that Lowe's made a sound business decision," she said. "[Perhaps] a little empathy…would have made a great difference and better business sense."
Mabe suggested that firms can learn from cases like Lowe's in how they approach culturally sensitive issues. "[It] represents a big teachable moment for other retailers and brands as they slowly but surely start to see the value in reaching America’s growing minority and multicultural consumer groups," she said. "This particular instance validates that not only are Muslim consumers important for what they buy, but they’re also important for what they don't buy."
Meanwhile, it will be intriguing to watch Lowe's social media messaging in the coming days. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and company blogs have become popular business tools when it comes to damage control. Some 20 months after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BP continues to leverage its YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter accounts to rehabilitate its maligned brand.
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Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.
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