Lowe’s Takes Heat for Pulling Ads on Show Featuring Muslims

Discussion
Dec 14, 2011

Rather than get into all the charges and counter-charges, I thought I’d break down the facts, as I understand them, around the current controversy surrounding the Lowe’s home improvement chain.

A recap:

  • Lowe’s buys ad time on the TLC show “All-American Muslim” featuring five Lebanese-American families.
  • Conservative groups, most notably the Florida Family Association, protest the chain’s support of a program that “hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.”
  • Lowe’s pulls its ads and offers an explanation that it was stepping back from this “lightning rod” issue.
  • Muslims and others who reject Islamophobic tendencies among some in the U.S. protest Lowe’s actions via social media and other outlets.
  • Lowe’s has not reversed its position choosing instead to “respectfully defer to communities, individuals and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance.”
  • “All-American Muslim,” a low-rated show even by cable standards, should see a boost in viewers following the controversy.

 

Discussion Questions: What should Lowe’s have done when first confronted with protests about buying time on “All-American Muslim?” What should it do now? What lessons can other retailers learn from this experience?

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31 Comments on "Lowe’s Takes Heat for Pulling Ads on Show Featuring Muslims"


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Dick Seesel
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Not for the first time, this issue treads on hot-button politics as well as marketing “best practices.” The correct action from Lowe’s would have been to ignore the xenophobia in the first place, once it made the decision to sponsor the show. At this point the PR damage is done, so it would be pointless for Lowe’s to reverse its position. But succumbing to this sort of pressure in our multicultural society is a slippery slope, indeed.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

They should have first considered the source and then ignored the hysteria. Oh, and they should NOT have pulled their ads.

They should re-buy the spots if for no other reason than to indemnify themselves from future crazy attacks.

I live in Detroit (where the series is shot) and Lowe’s has repeatedly been portrayed in the media as being a range of bad things from cowardly to racist.

Other retailers should learn to look hard before they endorse and then not to let themselves be led around by the nose by any fringe critics.

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

They should have ignored it at the beginning. They should quietly allow their agency to buy time on the show again if the agency thinks it’s a good buy. They may have done themselves more damage by responding to this group than if they had ignored them.

Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Lowe’s should have done nothing. By pulling their ads, they only poured fuel on the fire.

Warren Thayer
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

We’re being hijacked by the new American Taliban, and nobody dares speak up. There’s a lesson here. Too bad Lowe’s didn’t have the courage necessary to speak up.

AND I SAID NOTHING
In Germany
They first came for the communists
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade-unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me–
and by that time
no one was left to speak up.
— Pastor Martin Niemoller, 1945

David Livingston
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

It’s a business decision. Lowe’s can’t put commercials on every TV show, especially low rated ones. They have to do what they think is best financially for the company. Perhaps it’s just a publicity stunt meant to help the show’s ratings while also making Lowe’s appear to be more pro-American and appeal more to the typical Lowe’s customer (NASCAR fans?).

Most retailers seem to come out ahead in the end when these situations arise. Cracker Barrel, Walmart, and Target have been accused of similar things and then the 15 minutes of news is over. This is a good lesson for other retailers. Find a low rated TV show that you would never advertise on because of of the low ratings and demographics of viewers. Then pull ads. The result — free press. A win-win for the show and the retailer.

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
9 years 5 months ago

This could have been a galvanizing and empowering brand moment for Lowe’s. Instead, it was just an unsavory instance of abject bigotry. Too bad for Lowe’s and all of us.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

I agree with Richard 100%. What the heck is wrong with us? We seem to bow to the will of the loudest voice and descend to the lowest common denominator, rather than remember what we stand for.

Lowe’s has embarrassed itself terribly. And I’m frankly embarrassed for the company.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
9 years 5 months ago

It’s no secret that opinions in this country, facilitated by a media seeking sensationalism above all else and an active blogosphere, have become extremely polarized. Didn’t anyone in Lowe’s marketing consider this before buying time?

What to do about it now is simple math, based on Lowe’s target customers. Which segment is more critical to the business? At this point, in this environment, there is no way to get away clean.

This discussion should have been had before, not after, the decision to buy time on this show.

Liz Crawford
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Yet another cautionary tale in taking action without enough shopper research a priori.

Should Lowe’s have advertised in this environment? Only if it would have bolstered the brand. Should they have withdrawn? From a business perspective, the answer depends on who their target customers are…and this is information that the executives should have known, before the media buy.

At this point, there is nothing more to do but let more time pass and hope everyone forgets.

Phil Rubin
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Lowe’s should have dealt with the protests by recognizing that there are plenty of people on the extreme margins and that, while they have a voice, they do not represent either the majority nor the smartest views, especially when it comes to business. It’s rather pathetic what’s happened to religious tolerance in the US and Lowe’s is placating those who are intolerant and filled with not only their own agenda, but also with hate.

While reality is that it is unfortunately more acceptable to be anti-Islam, it’s no different than being anti-Christian, anti-Jewish or anti-atheist.

Lowe’s and most companies need to stand for something and that something is called values. Those values should be linked to their business, operating and marketing strategies and if they are, then decision making should become clearer for all in the organization.

For American Muslims, at the least, and likely those who are more moderate in their views, Lowe’s social stock has declined, and perhaps their market share from those constituencies along with it.

Ben Ball
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

I’m not sure if it is “within bounds for RetailWire” to pose a counter-question — but I’d like to.

How would this community respond if Lowe’s purchased ad time on a clearly Christian show — say something that had the word “Christian” in its name — and then pulled the ad in response to protests from a Muslim leaning organization? Would we have pilloried them as Lowe’s has been pilloried here? Or would we have clucked our collective tongues and talked about how they should have been more sensitive to minority issues in the first place?

As Mark Twain so pithily put it –“Dog bites man” is hardly news, but “Man bites dog” is a headline!

Just a thought….

Roger Saunders
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Lowe’s should have avoided the less tolerant, but vocal minority of the Florida Family Association. They made a decision to make use of a minor advertising support of a cable program. They should have followed through, and then reassessed the value of the sponsorship.

Democrat Representative Conyers is correct in his assessment, as published in the Detroit FREE PRESS. Apologize to the Muslim community — likely in social media, point to Lowe’s commitment to diversity, and then move on.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

This could obviously have been a controversial topic so Lowe’s management should have considered the possibility of a backlash when making the initial decision. Bowing to the first set of protests makes the company look as though it has no stand, but is willing to bow to public pressure of whoever makes the most noise. By not thinking through the implications of either of their decisions, they are left in a mess. Buy the ads back and stand behind the original decision.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Higher-ups without spines reverse great branding to pander. Not the first time, but the pioneers were the ones who got the arrows. It’s important if you are in marketing, to realize when you really work for the settlers.

Mark Burr
Guest
9 years 5 months ago
I have to agree with Ben Ball on this one. I also would suggest that going back to last week’s comments on an organization that listed “Christmas” retailers and “Non-Christmas” retailers as a pretty good indication that he’s right. What other retailers can learn is that they certainly need to be more careful in the selection of their ad placement in the first place. Networks such as these and others like them are looking for provocative programing. And, placing an ad in that environment has its risks to begin with. I’m not suggesting that the show is either good or bad. I haven’t seen it. I’d suggest that many that are decrying Lowe’s decision haven’t either. While I’m not going to the dollar level of Mitt Romney, I’d bet that the overwhelming majority with opinions on the show haven’t seen it. Its ratings indicate that. Being a Muslim in America or being a Christian in America isn’t easy. Being a person of faith makes you a target regardless of the basis of faith. Nevertheless, I’d… Read more »
M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
9 years 5 months ago

Some folks with squeaky little voices and axes to grind take offense at every small thing and then whine about it as loudly and as victimized as possible. God bless the first amendment. This is the nature of online forums. This is the nature of the Occupy Movement. But that doesn’t mean we must listen to them. Lowe’s first listened to some conservative groups, and is now being whined at by Muslims. Just make a good business decision, Lowe’s, and stay above the fray. If you listen to these small voices, they’ll soon be telling you how to run your business.

David Biernbaum
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Lowe’s should have stayed committed to their advertising commitment and explained to the extreme group that the company does not view the TV show as having an “agenda,” but Lowe’s will continue to monitor this, and all other shows it advertises, and will make appropriate decisions. In other words, I think that if a company feels it’s productive to advertise on certain shows that not everyone loves, they ought to do so, and stick to it. You will never please everyone, especially the far right and far left that seem to believe that everyone has an agenda.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
9 years 5 months ago

I am feeling that politics and emotion may, to a degree, be overtaking normal business common sense in some of the comments here this morning. Don’t companies have the right to spend their precious ad dollars in ways they believe is best as a market driver and for their retail bottom line anymore without being ridiculed, second guessed, and roundly criticized? Might there have been some other, deeper, operational factors involved with Lowe’s’ decision than merely “acquiescing to a fringe group in Florida”? I would bet that there’s much more to the story than any of us here know, that Lowe’s possesses some data we don’t, and that Lowe’s will survive this minor brouhaha.

Ben Sprecher
Guest
Ben Sprecher
9 years 5 months ago
Tons of great comments here, so I have nothing to ad on the topics of whether Lowe’s screwed up (it did) or whether it is right to knuckle under to bigotry and hatred, whatever the form (it isn’t). Rather, I’d like to pose an odd question; since Lowe’s has a credit card used by many of its highest volume customers, it can actually track the impact of the boycott and ensuing brouhaha on a per shopper level. So, the question is: has this incident impacted the buying behavior of Lowe’s most important customers? Or, to put it differently, are the 20% of customers who probably drive 80% of Lowe’s dollar volume swayed by the extreme rhetoric of an anti-Muslim group in Florida? With a low-purchase-frequency retailer like Lowe’s, this may be hard to measure. If the same thing happened with a grocery chain, you might even be able to infer a household’s level of intolerance from their buying behavior. (Not that I would EVER suggest this is a good idea, but it is an interesting… Read more »
Kai Clarke
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Nothing. These are micro, “social” outbursts from a select few individuals trying to make something out of nothing. Forget about it and move on (which is primarily what Lowe’s did). This is tomorrow’s fish wrapping….

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
9 years 5 months ago
Personally, I strongly disagree with Lowe’s actions here. Setting aside my personal feelings, Lowe’s does have the right to place or pull ads as the company sees fit. But even here I find Lowe’s at fault, given the brand showed an astounding lack of forethought and planning about the potential ramifications of both placing and pulling the “All-American Muslim” ads. In a recent RetailWire discussion of the American Family Association’s “Naughty or Nice” list of retailers “for” and “against” Christmas, I noted: “… retailing is undoubtedly one of the fronts on any number of culture wars. As such, merchants should monitor such issues, determine whether the brand has a position on the issue or not, develop communications that clearly explain the brand’s position, and implement initiatives that support that position … Probably most important, merchants must be ready to weather any negative publicity that may result from their stance and be willing to stand by their stance. Nothing is worse than a tepid response that proves the brand’s supposed belief is nothing more than marketing… Read more »
Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
9 years 5 months ago

Lowe’s determined that its sponsorship (advertisements on) this show had the potential to hurt its business. As the purpose of advertising is to increase business then Lowe’s decision was wise. As a stockholder, I don’t want Lowe’s or any other company in which I invest to do anything which might reduce returns. As public money is not involved in this situation, no one besides Lowe’s should be involved in this decision. I don’t want Lowe’s investing in advertising that they think could negatively impact our business.

Roy White
Guest
Roy White
9 years 5 months ago

Failing not to wade into this dangerous arena to begin with, Lowe’s, having once gotten there, should not have pulled the ads in response to a pressure group, especially so since there is a clear danger of victimizing a minority group. At this point, no matter what Lowe’s does, its public image is tarnished.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

From the Free Press article: “The Christian group boasts on its website that several companies dropped ads from the show because of its pressure. But it’s unclear whether the companies’ decision to pull the ads had anything to do with the Christian group…”; this summarizes what appears on the FFA website — which claims to have been around for 23 years, so this seems to be their 15 minutes – and in my mind raises the question, why are we hearing nothing about the others (one of which is, ironically, Home Depot)? The answer seems to be that it’s because Lowe’s was vocal about WHY they were pulling the ads. So the lesson to be learned seems to be: keep you mouth shut…retail isn’t for sissies (and it doesn’t seem to be for the overly honest, either).