I am the humble servant of a non-profit organization and have never really aspired to be a high-powered corporate public-relations man. But today I’m going to step into that role and offer some free advice to Lowe’s Home Improvement and any firm facing the threat of a boycott from fundamentalist zealots.
My advice is simple: Ignore them. When you ignore them, nothing happens. When you cave in to them, lots of things happen – all of them bad.
Consider the case of Lowe’s. The national hardware/home improvement chain panicked recently after a group called the Florida Family Association complained because Lowe’s was airing commercials on a program called “All-American Muslim” that airs on TLC, a cable channel.
I’ll admit I haven’t seen the program, but I’m told it’s a reality show about several Muslim families living in Dearborn, Mich. As USA Today put it, “The series shows them in such roles as a high-school football coach and a party planner, and tackles issues including assimilation, interfaith marriage and conversion, women and careers, the wearing of women’s head covering and society’s view of their heritage and religion.”
This was enough to throw some Religious Right bigots into a tizzy. The Florida Family Association, convinced that the show is too soft on Muslims, led the charge and threatened a boycott. Apparently, they are only happy when Muslims are portrayed as bomb-wielding maniacs lusting to destroy the Great Satan.
Instead of telling these losers to go jump in a lake, Lowe’s immediately pulled its ads from the program. This led to a backlash and several Facebook-based campaigns calling on people to contact Lowe’s and advise them to get a grip.
Making matters worse, a band of Islamophobes immediately invaded Lowe’s Facebook page and began posting bigoted and hateful messages attacking Muslims, none of which Lowe’s removed. The firm has now battened down the hatches and is no longer talking to the media. Talk about a bad day at the office!
Compare this experience to Home Depot, which is also a hardware/home improvement store. Earlier this year, the American Family Association (AFA) began calling for a boycott of Home Depot after the company dared to run some ads aimed at the LGBT community and allowed its employees to take part in gay pride events. Home Depot ignored the boycott threat. Its profits have increased.
Religious Right boycotts feature a lot of huffing and puffing, to be sure. Actual results? Not so much. Remember the AFA’s attack on Disney? Brought that company right to its knees, didn’t it? It’s not like they have giant profits or anything.
The sad thing is, all of this was unnecessary. Anyone with a web access and two minutes of time could have learned that the Florida Family Association (which is not officially affiliated with the AFA, although the AFA has saluted its work) is a fringe group with limited support and strange ideas. Its annual budget is about $170,000, an amount which, in the world of advocacy groups, goes by the technical term “diddly-squat.”
So, here is my message to Lowe’s and other corporations: When the fundamentalist theocrats rush in and start fulminating, the first thing you need to do is take a deep breath. Relax. Don’t do anything rash. They are paper tigers. Ignore them or tell them to buzz off. The fact that they are harassing you is not a story. But if you cave in to them, you look like scared rabbits, and suddenly everyone is aware of your cowardice. Then lots of people get mad at you. Now that’s a story.
Need more help? Don’t hesitate to call me. My consulting fees are very reasonable.