December 16th, 2011
Editor’s note: Zahid H. Bukhari is president of the Islamic Circle of North America.
By Zahid H. Bukhari, Special to CNN
Lowe’s Home Improvement recently caved to bigoted demands from the right-wing Florida Family Association and pulled advertising from TLC’s “All-American Muslim,” a reality show about five Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan.
It shocks and saddens me that a Fortune 100 company such as Lowe’s, one of the most powerful brands in the United States and across the globe, would condone and side with outright bigotry. It’s not that we haven’t witnessed this behavior before, but Lowe’s decision to pull advertising from the show validates overt religious prejudice and gives credibility to an attack on our community.
What may come as a surprise to Lowe’s CEO Robert Niblock is that by taking a stand against our community, he is losing the business of a massive force in the American economy. American Muslims are more than 7 million strong and growing and have the buying power of between $170 billion and $200 billion annually.
Studies show that two-thirds of Muslim families make more than $50,000 a year, and a quarter make more than $100,000 a year. On average, we spend a lot of our money on home improvement – about $33 billion annually, according to an American Muslim market consumer study released by Dinar Standard, a research, advisory and business media firm that analyzes emerging Muslim markets.
The marketing firm JWT reported in 2007 that Muslim American consumers represented “a neglected market with huge potential for brands that are willing to connect with them.”
TLC’s “All-American Muslim” is the only television show about Muslim Americans. Niblock lacks insight and business savvy if he believes those who hate Muslims have greater purchasing power than Muslim Americans.
Just like the general consumer, Muslims like to shop where they feel welcome, whether that warm atmosphere is created by catering to our dietary requirements or by promoting our holidays.
When Best Buy wished shoppers a “Happy Eid Al-Adha” in its Thanksgiving 2009 circular, it faced similar backlash to what Lowe’s experienced from right-wing groups.
Thankfully, Best Buy stood firmly by its message. The American Muslim community was ecstatic and flooded the company with thanks, support and loyalty.
A 2010 study by the advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather found that 86% of American Muslim consumers believe American companies “need to make more of an effort to understand Muslim values” and 98% of Muslim consumers feel American brands “don’t actively reach out to Muslim consumers.”
Of those surveyed, 80% said they would “prefer to buy brands that support Muslim identity through promotion and celebration of religious festivals, for example.” Most relevant to Lowe’s is that 99% of Muslim consumers said they would stop supporting brands that offend them.
“To make matters even more alarming, a full 83% feel it is their responsibility to inform all their friends and family of what they know of the brand’s behavior,” according to the study.
In 2006, Tom’s of Maine received halal certification, which means they are manufactured according to Islamic law, for almost 100% of its products. The Ogilvy & Mather study concluded that Tom’s of Maine is now “one of the leaders in recognizing the needs of the American Muslim community.
“What they cannot certify as halal,” the study said, “they make clearly known to Muslim consumers, ensuring that they do not unwittingly compromise anyone.”
The American Muslim Community has seen a tremendous outpouring of support from communities of all faiths in the past few days. The Islamic Circle of North America sent an e-mail blast to 50,000 people and urged them to act against the Lowe’s decision by boycotting their stores.
We have not, in 40 years as an organization, received a more positive and proactive response from the public. We are incredibly heartened and grateful for this show of support, and we know that we can make a statement through our boycott.
Lowe’s and other advertisers that are pulling ads from “All-American Muslim” may have pacified the completely baseless concerns of hate groups, but they’ve alienated American Muslims and their friends, neighbors and supporters.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Zahid H. Bukhari