Lowe’s Woes – All American Muslim Ad Withdrawal Creates Crisis

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Social Media Risk Management – What Lowe’s can do TODAY

Summary: Lowe’s pulls advertising from “reality” television program called “All American Muslim” inciting social media backlash

Background:

The reality TV show “All-American Muslim” premiered on TLC with record 1.7 million viewers in November, earning critical acclaim from The New York Times, USA Today NPR, Time Magazine, The Atlantic and many major blog sites. The episode, “How to Marry a Muslim,” boosted TLC to post its highest Sunday prime-time performance in more than a year in women 18-34.

The Florida Family Association (FFA), a small Tampa-based conservative Christian group publicly and aggressively solicited its membership to not only voice their outrage over the show and its portrayal of the American Muslim community, but to also boycott advertisers of the show, one of which was Lowe’s (KAYAK.com is another).

Florida Family founder David Cato told AP his mission was to “defend traditional American biblical values.”

Fanning the flames, FFA charged that the show is “propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law,” An FFA email to its members (read in full here) charged that:

“The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish,” urging them to contact dozens of companies and ask them to “discontinue advertising on this show.”

The hardware and building supply chain Lowe’s reversed its advertising decision, and pulled advertising from future episodes.

Within three hours of the announcement that Lowe’s had pulled advertising from the show, the Twitter hashtag #loweshatesmuslims lit up the Twitter-sphere, thousands of people threatened to boycott, and the Twitterati such as Perez Hilton and Russell Simmons jumped on board.

Lowe's Hates Muslims

After more than 28,000 Facebook messages were posted (many racist and deemed highly offensive), Lowe’s deleted the entire comment thread. In its place, the retailer apologized if the comments gave offense, and said it will monitor its Facebook wall more carefully.

On the current Lowe’s Facebook Page the message reads:

Lowe’s Home Improvement

 

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.

As detailed by Eboo Patel on the Interfaith Youth Core website, http://www.ifyc.org/content/eboo-patel-0:

Perez Hilton, who proudly wears the label “the internet’s most notorious gossip,” has shone his large and lurid spotlight on the issue. The hip hop mogul Russell Simmons has been tweeting and writing about the campaign and even went so far as to [attempt] to buy all the advertising space on the show. Perez Hilton is gay, Russell Simmons is black. Both have witnessed discrimination against their own communities and are therefore quick to jump to the aid of others who suffer the same. And they are not the only ones. The first tweet that Lowe’s responded to over the controversy was from interfaith activist Chris Stedman, who happens to be a gay atheist.”

Lowe’s response Tweet to Mr. Stedman read:

“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.”

On the FFA website, Florida Family founder David Cato’s open letter to members reads in-part:

“Confronting All-American Muslim show shed light on the threat Islam and revealed more darkness in the American media. Millions saw our message.  Over 700,000 emails collectively sent to all advertisers of the show.”

 

We hit a new record for emails sent through our sever.  Close to 700,000 emails have been collectively sent thus far to the companies that advertised during All-American Muslim.

 

He goes on further to say: “We have been the target of much hostility with cyber attacks and hate calls and emails.  The group Anonymous violated federal law by attacking Floridafamily.org.  Our web master shut down our web site for a day, tightened security and returned us to the web.  Thankfully we are back online.  Additionally, I have received hundreds of emails and dozens of phone calls from people attacking my character and some making threats.”

What effect does Social Media have on this? Read the current more than 8900 comments on the Lowe’s Facebook page post alone. A Tweetreach report of only 50 of the latest tweets has a reach of more than 1,105,425 people.

Additionally, led by Rev. Charles Williams, of the King Solomon Baptist Church, members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Highland Park NAACP, People for the American Way Foundation, southwest Detroit State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Russell Simmons (and his more than 1 million Twitter followers) and others, a protest is announced via Twitter at the Lowe’s Allen Park store for today at 11 AM.

A like-protest December 16, 2011 in Paterson NJ was covered by multiple media outlets:

 

What can be done TODAY?

The commitment to spend advertising dollars is never made lightly – key demographic analysis showed Lowe’s and other advertisers that an important buying group of Lowe’s customers were likely to watch the show and channel.

One of the key benefits of Social Media is the unique opportunity to instantly listen to your brand advocates and detractors alike; the challenge is in not reacting instantly if deeper review is called for.

Listening, engaging and managing messaging is critically important in a potentially explosive situation. Caution was called for here, but in this case, hindsight doesn’t help today.

In addition to managing a Crisis Event, Lowe’s must today continue to do business at the busiest time of year – this potential business interruption event may have far reaching, damaging effects to employees, customers, stockholders, C-Suite decision-makers (Russell Simmons is calling for their CEO to step down), and ultimately the Board.

More important, this is an ongoing crisis with legs – one message via Twitter reads:

“is excited. Bay Area: this weekend, “#HijabiFlashMob planned for #OccupyLowes because #LowesHatesMuslims.”

Whether you agree with Lowe’s actions or not, this is a business crisis. Lowe’s must have a Crisis Communication plan in place that aggressively includes Social Media.  TODAY they must concentrate on:

 

    • Building, maintaining and restoring trust

 

    • Improving knowledge and understanding

 

    • Guiding and encouraging appropriate attitudes, decisions, actions and behaviors

 

  • Encouraging collaboration and cooperation

Lowe’s must:

 

    1. Assure the safety of employees and customers

 

    1. Predict events that may occur on their property and mitigate risks

 

    1. Define communication response strategies that can be implemented now;

 

    1. Immediately assign crisis communications resources and responsibilities;

 

    1. Establishes crisis communications protocols;

 

    1. Monitor activity, target and reach audiences with key messages;

 

  1. Enable crisis communications managers to immediately launch consistent public information and media relations

More important, there is an opportunity for creative thought leadership to emerge from this event.

A clear leadership voice must be heard from the company, and all media and content managers in the organization must understand and communicate this clear message with a plan for continued monitoring and response.  Scenarios must be explored and prepared for.

While this is just one of the areas of Firestorm’s expertise, Firestorm’s media management experience at Virginia Tech following the 2007 campus shootings – and other client crisis scenarios – allows us an inside look at how crises develop, why it is critically important to have a uniform message and crisis communications plan in place, and how to predict and test messaging in evolving scenarios.

Quick response capabilities are crucial to establishing Lowe’s as the source of information for the media during this crisis. Understanding and assessing media needs, constraints and internal media-relations capabilities must be addressed.

This is what we do. If you’re in a Crisis Now call (800) 321-2219.  We can help.

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