Unless you still think it is Black Friday, that Herman Cain is still leading the presidential polls, or Ramadan has not ended (it did around August 31), then you probably have heard about the Lowe’s kerfuffle over whether they should, or should not, have advertised on the TLC reality show based in Dearborn, Michigan: All-American Muslim.
Lowe’s pulled its advertising, other companies followed, folks all over the place became upset, a Buddhist hip hop tycoon bought the remaining airtime and the debate is continuing on social media, to the embarrassment of Lowe’s. For branding experts and mavens, having people who “like” your Facebook page call each other bigots, ignorant, idiots and morons is a nightmare best avoided.
Lowe’s nixed its advertising campaign after a faux activist organization, the Florida Family Association (FFA), complained that the show depicts American Muslims as, well, American.
The FFA has one paid and barely articulate staffer, David Caton, who fills his coffers by rambling on about the evils of Modern Family, Disney Gay Days, the “godless” Family Guy and the antics of Tila Tequila (well that’s an easy target). Corporations in kind who had dared to advertise during these shows also draw the wrath of the FFA, and they include JetBlue, General Mills, Chrysler and JP Morgan Chase.
Like many people, I had never heard of All-American Muslim or the FFA until I made the mistake of leaving the cable news channel on as background noise. Never mind the rants and shouting: the stubborn facts remains that Dearborn is about as All-American as you can get; overall, the Arab community in this Detroit suburb is prosperous, and conservative: the community leaned Republican at the voting booths until the aftermath of 9/11.
So now Lowe’s has not only embarrassed itself with its about-face, but has looked inept when it comes to how the company handled the situation on Facebook. A post on Lowe’s Facebook page that explained the company’s decision became so ugly that on Wednesday, Lowe’s social media team removed the posting. They replaced it with another posting . . . which is also embarrassing for its tone.
For companies considering ramping up their social media efforts, Lowe’s ordeal is case study of what not to do:
- Stick to your plan. Caving in to a small insignificant crowd makes you look weak, and will just infuriate more people, i.e. customers, in the long run.
- If you are handling such a hot and divisive topic, don’t encourage people posting on your topic to stay “respectful” and then fail to monitor the conversation.
- Defend your stance. Staying silent allows random low-level politicians and pundits to do your talking for you.
- Siding with the majority, or what seems to be the majority opinion, may seem expedient, but doing what is right, even if it’s difficult, can win you brand loyalty.
- It takes a long time to cultivate a devoted brand following, but a bad move, which can occur quickly in this age of social media, can wreck it in an instant.
- Allowing readers to post mindless comments without any meaningful debate offers little benefit but will tally up site visits, which may satisfy advertisers who post banner ads.
It is not fair to tar and feather Lowe’s and its employees for a poor decision. Companies like Target have a legacy of doing good work, but the decision of one team or a group of executives unfortunately can stain the rest of the company. In Lowe’s case, a bad decision followed by bad communication has made the past week a painful one. And painful for those five families in Dearborn and others around the country, too.