Lowes Learns About Viral Marketing (and Not Being Bigoted) The Hard Way!

Sarah and I have been watching “All-American Muslim” on TLC. It’s a glimpse into what it’s like to be both Muslim and American in Dearborn, Michigan. And while admittedly it’s slow at times, we’ve really enjoyed seeing how different people approach their religion, and learning more about the different ways people practice, even within their own families. So we were very surprised when the hardware store Lowe’s pulled their ad support after the “Florida Family Association” complained about the show.

What Lowe’s didn’t realize, but should have, is that controversial decisions in 2011 don’t fade quietly away. People were angry that Lowe’s pulled the ads. Really angry. Their Facebook page exploded with comments, and Lowe’s explained they simply didn’t want to support a “controversial” program. When that backfired with vitriol, they pulled their public relations commentary and replaced it with this:

We wanted to get back to you about our last post and the comments that followed.

For several days, our Facebook page has become a forum of debate surrounding a TLC program – and to let us know how you feel. Many of the comments are specifically about Lowe’s advertising decision…many more are about broader political and social issues.

Some of the comments have been sharp and disrespectful in tone, but out of respect for the transparency of social media, we let the debate continue. However, we have seen a large volume of comments become more pointed and hateful. As a result, we have taken the step of removing all previous posts and will more tightly filter future comments on this topic.

You will be able to respond to this post, but in the spirit of social media, please keep your comments on this Facebook page respectful. We appreciate your understanding.

Again, we offer our sincere apology to anyone offended by our advertising business decision or posts on this page.

So basically, Lowe’s censored themselves and their fans after realizing they really, really made a mess of things. What’s worse is that the FFA’s reasons for complaining about Lowe’s advertising on the show is that “All-American Muslim” depicts ordinary Muslims doing ordinary things, and clearly that’s not true, aka, the stereotypical idea that all Muslims are terrorists. Not only did Lowe’s cave to complaints, but they did so based on a bigoted sentiment! Plus, it has catapulted this into a topic on several news shows, it’s appearing all over blogs (even Forbes covered it!), and people are commenting on Lowe’s Facebook about how they’ll never shop there again:

I am part owner of a Construction company and we Lowes has been a huge supplier for our company over the past 10 years, and we have used Lowes over Home Depot 99 percent of the time. Because Lowes supports bigotry, we have decided to stop using Lowes as a supplier and switch to Home Depot. Thank you for years of great service.

Any company can choose to advertise (or not) on any show they wish. If Lowe’s had stopped ads on “All-American Muslim” because the show is boring, that’s their right. It’s the part where Lowe’s (repeatedly!) referred to the show as “controversial” that they dug their own grave. The first thing Lowe’s needs to do is apologize for how they’ve handled this mess, apologize for implying all Muslims are terrorists, and the last thing is to fire their public relations department and hire people who understand social media. It’s quite clear Lowe’s does not currently employ anyone who understands any of these things.

Yes, other advertisers (notably, Kayak.com) have pulled their ad support as well. But Kayak claims it’s because the show was terrible, and TLC promoted it for the controversy it would ignite, not because it was an interesting or compelling television show. Is that right? It’s hard to say, since Kayak is arguing it’s a business decision based on a boring show with low ratings, not a race issue. As I said above, a company has every right to choose where to put their ad dollars, but it makes for an interesting contrast since Lowe’s fanned the flames over and over again, while Kayak turned it into a business decision. It might still be influenced by bigotry/stereotypes, but one company attempted to handle it appropriately, while the other managed to get every major news outlet discussing their poor public relations management.

Companies need to realize a few things. One, someone’s always going to be offended by anything you do; just because subject matter sounds controversial doesn’t mean it is. Second, information travels very quickly. And the same “social media” that basically gives them free advertising and access to their customer base can easily backfire if they handle it as poorly as Lowe’s did. By letting the “controversial” label stick to their decision, they lost control of the entire conversation. No one would be discussing this if Kayak, Lowe’s, and any other advertiser who dropped out simply said “This show has low ratings. Low ratings are not worth our money.” They purposely gave in to pushing stereotypes, and now they’re surprised they’re getting raked over the coals for it! Finally, this cuts both ways. By making this into a controversy, they’re alerting the consumer, and letting us know how to vote with our wallets…and there’s every chance it won’t be for Lowe’s. At least, I can say we won’t be shopping at Lowe’s anytime soon, at least not until they prove they’re not bigoted (and half-hearted non-apologies on Facebook don’t count).

All this controversy and “All-American Muslim” really is a boring show. It’s entertaining enough that we DVR it, but after a while you start to realize that you could take out the Muslims and replace them with Jews, or Catholics, or Buddhists, and you’d basically have the same show. It puts the REALITY in reality TV. Needless to say, no one on the show is a terrorist; they are football coaches, police officers, secretaries and students…in other words, they are completely normal! Here’s a newsflash: American Muslims are just like any other Americans. Here’s a trailer to give you an idea of what you’re probably not watching, based on the ratings:


For the definitive commentary on this controversy, and because paraphrasing and quoting can’t do it justice, here is The Daily Show’s take on this:

Are you watching “All-American Muslim”? If so, what do you think about it? Are you at all bothered by Lowe’s stance on the show’s “controversiality”?

Categories: Editorials, Rants and Raves

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