Muslims and other outraged consumers are flexing their social media muscle over the news Friday that the home improvement chain Lowes pulled its advertising from TLC’s “All American Muslim” TV series after pressure from a Florida-based right wing conservative group.
The Twitter hashtag #LowesHatesMuslims developed overnight, and while semantically not ideal, it seems to be the one with the most traction at this hour. The twitterstorm for boycotts and/or action by Lowe’s is increasing, with high profile figures such as Russell Simmons joining the call.
Friday morning as the story broke, interfaith writer and activist Chris Stedman pressed the company via Twitter on their decision, drawing out the only two Tweet responses so far from Lowes:
“We did not pull our ads based solely on the complaints or emails of any one group. It is never our intent to alienate anyone,” tweeted the company, followed shortly thereafter by “Lowe’s values diversity of thought in everyone, including our employees and prospective customers.”
As of Saturday morning, these two lawyered-up corporate responses remain the company’s only Twitter response on the issue. Lowe’s Facebook page also shows no response at this time, though many are posting on their wall are recopying and posting a message on their wall to express their opposition to the company’s decision (a “Boycott Lowe’s Home Improvement” Facebook page has also sprung up). There is no statement or press release on the Lowe’s site either, as of this writing.
From a professional public relations perspective, Lowe’s public response indicates a lack of a good crisis communications plan. Without detailing the chinks in their armour — as I have no desire to strengthen their strategy at this stage — that lack of planning does indicate a certain corporate vulnerability. Also noteworthy is the fact that the company succumbed easily to pressure from the Florida group, which indicates some corporate attention to consumer buying power and interests — so continued and increasing pressure should yield results.
The key will be in numbers: the objective will be to show Lowes management that those outraged over the company’s decision far exceed the constituency that called for the ad pull. Alert your non-Muslim friends and allies to this issue and encourage them to participate.
Muslim organizations have also sprung into action: MPAC pulled together a good summary and action alert replete with links; ICNA also stepped into the mix with helpful, specific information. An online petition is also circulating.
Moving forward, MPAC makes the wise assessment on their alert page that it will be important to determine the status of other companies targeted to pull ads by the Florida group. There is the legitimate possibility that ads may have been bought for only one or two episodes, but if it comes to light that ads were pulled due to this pressure, then a call for boycotts of such firms would also be in order.
Such actions by Lowe’s flies in the face of the increasing business bandwagon of “Corporate Social Responsibility.” Indeed, Lowe’s actions seem to not be very consistent with their own CSR spin.
Reminding companies via your shopping power that bigotry and bias are not good business decisions is beyond a Muslim issue — it’s an ethical call that people of all faiths can understand.
Update: At about 4:45 pm EST, Lowe’s fianlly posted on their FB page the following response:
It appears that we managed to step into a hotly contested debate with strong views from virtually every angle and perspective – social, political and otherwise – and we’ve managed to make some people very unhappy. We are sincerely sorry. We have a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, across our workforce and our customers, and we’re proud of that longstanding commitment.
Lowe’s has received a significant amount of communication on this program, from every perspective possible. Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lighting rod for many of those views. As a result we did pull our advertising on this program. We believe it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individuals and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance.
We strongly support and respect the right of our customers, the community at large, and our employees to have different views. If we have made anyone question that commitment, we apologize.
Thank you for allowing us to further explain our position.
It’s an inelegant (notice the typo) way of offering an apology while spinning their original cave to pressure. It will rally and comfort who support their position, but does little to indicate a sincere re-evaluation of the ethics behind their choice.
In an email from a Lowe’s representative posted on the Florida group’s page, a Lowe’s rep states “there are certain programs that do not meet Lowe’s advertising guidelines, including the show you brought to our attention.” Without access to those guidelines, it’s not possible to verify the truthfulness of their response.
But their ethical choice remains — and so does anybody’s decision where to shop.