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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard by now that Lowes Home Improvement pulled their advertising from the timeslot during TLC’s new reality show, All-American Muslim.
If you’re not familiar with the developing story, get caught up here.
As an expert in brand public relations and the Muslim consumer market, here are my thoughts in a nutshell:
What’s done is done. Even if Lowes would do it, I don’t see any point in them trying to reinstate their TV spots during All-American Muslim. If you have a conviction, no matter how ridiculous it may seem, you might as well stick to it in cases like these. The damage is already done here and the best thing to do now is move on and try to carefully rebuild over time a relationship with the American Muslim community, as well as many others who see pulling the ads as a bad PR move and out of touch with American values.
This recent controversy 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. 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.
Carefully weigh your options before making a hasty decision. Big companies like Lowes are used to controversy and are the subject of boycotts and pressure from special interest groups everyday. Though I can’t speak to how much thought went into the decision to pull the ads, one lesson here is to carefully consider the credibility of the individuals or companies doing the complaining in the first place. Often times we see a lot of noise from groups who aren’t even shoppers at the company in question. Corporate America must determine who of their diverse customer base may be affected by their decisions and what implications those may have.
It always disappoints me to see well-meaning companies get caught up in controversies and boycotts such as these, but in many cases they can be avoided with a little understanding. Had Lowes had a better understanding of the Muslim consumer market and been fully aware of the potential for backlash, their decision regarding advertising may have been entirely different.
So the question remains, does Lowes have any chance of winning back the Muslim community and how can this type of controversy be avoided for other companies in the future? If Lowes were a client of my firm, here is what we would recommend to them (and others) for starters:
• Communicate with your customers and let them know that you sincerely regret having disappointed any individual or group, and value each of them. Keep reinforcing that message whenever possible.
• You no longer get a free pass by claiming ignorance! Get to know the American Muslim community – according to an Ogilvy Noor study, 86% of American Muslims believe that American companies “need to make more of an effort to understand Muslim values,” yet are largely ignored. Companies can no longer afford to ignore this significant and growing consumer segment of approximately seven million. Muslims have money to spend (around $33 billion on housing & housing services alone according to DinarStandard), and as evidenced by the rapid-fire response on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, it is obvious that Muslim voices are worth paying attention to as they are influential and can drive a national conversation quickly and aggressively.
• Do what’s right. Understanding that companies are in business to make money, and they can’t please everyone, this doesn’t mean that they don’t have to take responsibility for their actions. As Representative Chris Murphy of Connecticut stated recently on the House floor, companies need to take care not to contribute to or even be perceived as “rubber-stamping basic foundational bigotry against a major American religious group.” It is also important for companies to be consistent. Just as we wouldn’t tolerate anything deemed anti-semitic or homophobic, we can’t allow this type of xenophobia to be tolerated within corporate America.
• In an effort to do more than just pay lip-service, demonstrate by your actions that you are in fact a company that values diversity and welcomes customers of all faiths and lifestyles. Consider doing something good with the community in both the near and long-term. For example, partner with Muslim groups around the country who are dedicated to socially-responsible programs such as building homes for families in need or collaborate with initiatives that foster diversity and interfaith understanding.
• Lastly, create a crisis communications plan to have at your disposal for future crisis of this nature. Having worked with clients during controversies, I’ve had the opportunity to implement our contingency plans and understand what a crucial tool those plans can be as they can enable companies to act quickly and effectively.
It may take Lowes a long time to clean up the mess they’ve made on their aisles with Muslims, but with the right approach, I believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Despite the current outlook, Lowes 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.
Lisa Mabe is Founder and Principal of Hewar Social Communications in Washington, D.C. and is a pioneer in the field of marketing to Muslim consumers. Follow Lisa on Twitter at @LisaofArabia.
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