The headlines in the Los Angeles Times and Ad Age are virtually identical this morning: “Lowe's Faces Backlash After Pulling Ads from TLC's 'All-American Muslim,'” reflecting the growing controversy surrounding the No. 2 home-improvement retailer’s widely reported decision that, in the words of a California state senator, many people see as “"bigoted, shameful, and un-American."
As Karl Greenberg re-reported in yesterday’s “Around the Net in Brand Marketing,” the Florida Family Association had protested Lowe’s advertising on the show, claiming it is “propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values." Lowe’s withdrew its advertising while protesting that it did not do so “based solely on the complaints or emails of any one group.”
Spokeswoman Karen Cobb said yesterday that Lowe's has a "long-standing commitment" to diversity and pulled the ads only after the show became "a lightning rod for people to voice complaints from a variety of perspectives." Cobb tells the LA Times’ Shan Li in an email that other companies had also removed their ads from the show. A spokesperson for the Discovery Network and TLC Network declined to comment on that assertion, emailing, “we stand behind the show … and we're happy the show has strong advertising support."
Although the reaction seems to run heavily against Lowe’s decision, it is it by no measure a unanimous sentiment. Sixty-three percent of readers who responded to a Boston Herald online poll by early this morning feel “[Lowe’s] should not have bowed to the conservative group’s pressure, with 37% saying, “The chain has a right to remove its brand from such a controversial show -- I’ll still buy my hardware there.” Those who disagree with the decision but still intend to shop at Lowe’s, or who have no opinion on the matter, seem to be disenfranchised, alas.
Most communications experts quoted around the net this morning, however, believe Lowe’s bungled badly.
“It seems that Lowe’s initial action to pull the ad was done in haste without fully investigating the group who made the request or the potential ramifications,” said Nancy Sterling, a crisis communications expert at Boston’s ML Strategies, tells the Boston Herald’s Donna Goodison. “Now the situation has mushroomed into a much bigger problem for Lowe’s.”
The AP’s Mitch Stacy reports that the Florida Family Association, which is not affiliated with the larger American Family Association, “has been fighting for more than two decades against gay rights, strip clubs and most anything else that offends evangelical Christians.” David Caton, a 55-year-old former accountant who founded the group in 1987, denies that it is a “hate group,” as some charge, saying it “defend[s] traditional American biblical values."
Lowe’s needs to “stop the bleeding as soon as possible” by saying it made a mistake, Matt Ellis of Ellis Strategies tells Goodison. “Instead of keeping the focus on having a successful holiday sales season, Lowe’s now faces the threat of disappointing shareholders in the short term and ... damage to their brand in the long term.”
Russell Simmons, who wears the label “hip-hop mogul” with finesse, went beyond his weekend protest of the move yesterday and tried to put his money where his tweets are: “Just purchased remaining spots for #allamericanmuslim for next week,” he told his million-plus followers @UncleRUSH early in the day. Later, however, the Hollywood Reporter’s Jethro Nededog reports he later tweeted: “Oh now the long term advertisers want their spots. “my office @unirush is fighting to hold spots #allamericanmuslim sold out.”
Blogging on Huffington Post, Kari Ansari, a writer and co-founder of America's Muslim Family Magazine, calls the show “quirky” with some “cringe-worthy moments.” Neither she nor her husband “love” the show, but they’re “happy that TLC took the risk to feature these families in prime time on Sunday nights,” she writes.
“Sadly, a small group of anti-Islam bigots were able to hoodwink a major American retailer into thinking this innocuous show is some sort of stealth jihad on America,” Ansari writes, and she is heartened by the calls for boycotts by non-Muslims on Lowe’s Facebook page (click the "everyone" view at the top of the page) and Twitter account.
“Hooray! My fellow Americans are coming through against bigotry in all its manifestations, even in support of whacky reality shows,” Ansari writes.
Most of the posts on the lede Facebook page this morning support Lowe’s decision, but it’s hard to imagine that it will emerge from the decision with more “likes.” Calling its original decision to remove the ads “un-Christian to the max,” Detroit News columnist Laura Berman then takes the company to task for “releasing paragraphs of corporate mumbo-jumbo, pseudo-apologies that fueled the growing uproar.”
Once upon a time, before people could talk back instantly, corporate mumbo jumbo was a lot more effective.