Gini Dietrich

Lowe’s Caves to Pressure without Strategy

By: Gini Dietrich | December 21, 2011 | 

Have you heard about Lowe’s pulling their advertising from the TLC program, “All-American Muslim?”

The story goes like this: Lowe’s was advertising on The Learning Channel. As part of their media buy, their ads aired during the new reality show.

A conservative group, The Florida Family Association, complained.

According to the Associated Press, the group called the show:

Propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.


I’ve not seen the show, but I saw it previewed before it began. According to what I saw, the families highlighted are, well, reality show material.

They’re not terrorists. They’re not anti-American. If anything, they represent all that is crazy about our country. You know, the Kardashian, train wreck kind of crazy.

But Lowe’s gave in to pressure from The Florida Family Association and pulled its ads. During an interview, they said:

Our decision was not political, it was not social in any way. We just knew that it was a controversial program and we wanted to reach consumers. A controversial program is not a great place to do that.

I see. So a reality show that follows five families who, are teachers, coaches, and policemen and represent a teeny, tiny minority of the Muslim population in America is a controversial show.

Let’s switch gears for a second.

Do you remember a little more than a year ago when Gap crowdsourced a new logo and launched to a myriad of complaints?

Yes, the complaints came from the very vocal blogosphere. People, who, by the accounts of Gap, are not customers. Yet they gave in, pulled their new logo out of circulation, and stayed with the original.

Later, a poll was done and Gap realized their customers either a) didn’t know they had launched a new logo or b) just didn’t care and continued to shop there.

It’s hard when you’re in the thick of things to ignore the vocal minority. I’ve had my own instances where one or two people, who have incredible reach, have tried to get me to change a blog post or reverse my view on something. It plain old sucks.

But that’s why strategy is so important. If Gap had been able to say, “Look. We know you don’t like our new logo, but you’re not our customer. The reason we’re doing this is XYZ.” Then they would have been done with it. Instead they caved.

Same thing with Lowe’s. Do they really think this show is anti-American and represents terrorists? I doubt it.

They caved to a very vocal, but minority representation of their customer. In fact, I’d love to know if the people behind this “anti-American” campaign even shop at Lowe’s.

You rarely do any advertising without a strategy. It’s too bad they couldn’t grow a thick skin and stick by the business reasons for advertising on TLC and during “All-American Muslim.” If anything, their decision to pull the ads makes me not want to shop there, not herald them for their decision.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • ElissaFreeman

    Such a good point. Companies without a comms strategy – especially a SM strategy – cave into public pressure with frightening speed. I’ve seen it time and again. There will always be a ‘vocal’ majority who will do most of the screaming – but they don’t speak on behalf of everyone. If companies ever wondered why they should hire PR agencies and/or hire in-house PR professionals, the notion of having cool heads prevail during a potential crisis should be reason #1.

    • ginidietrich

      @ElissaFreeman Cool heads prevail is a great reason to have PR counsel. It just makes me shake my head. Having done a ton of crisis work, I know your first reaction is to react, but that’s the worst thing you can do.

      • @ginidietrich@ElissaFreeman notice how @Sean McGinnis sneaks in without leaving a comment. I mean really how rude. I am hacking into his RSS reader right now. And starting tomorrow his computer (I heard he has an E-Machine) will prompt him to comment here and not allow access to any other programs or tabs until he does. That will teach him.

        • ginidietrich

          @HowieSPM@Sean McGinnis He always does that.

    • @ElissaFreeman It was the dumb idea to post an explanation on Facebook that was the issue right? Did they need to do this at all? I bet if they didn’t there would of been almost zero news about this. @ginidietrich @jasonkonopinski what think thou?

      • ElissaFreeman

        So true! Companies pull ads all the time – or cut short a buy. To decide to placate the ‘Florida Family Association’ by posting on their Facebook was a remarkably dumb decision.

  • A lot of it comes down to timing. We see so many cases where a “crisis” happens for a company, celebrity, politician, and it seems as if they don’t react fast enough. Now, with the Internet, word can spread fast, and there is always the risk that things could blow up in your face very fast. I think that’s the business climate we’re in now, and right or not, it make a company like Lowe’s feel like they have to react fast.

    Looking at the many cases you highlight here, a lot of them are related to timing: an entity either reacting too quickly, or not quickly enough. It has to be tough, especially for a big company with a large customer base.

    I can imagine when you’re in the eye of the storm, you can go into panic mode without fully thinking thru the implications. I’m sure that’s what Gap did as well.

    I don’t pretend to have the answers, but perhaps that’s another topic for you. Clearly you need to think, process, and talk through things before you react, but the timing can be so crucial. Obviously if you have a good PR firm working with you, they can help you work through that.

    • ginidietrich

      @KenMueller Not even a good PR firm…a great sense of crisis work and a plan. All crisis plans need to be updated with the web in mind. You can’t plan for a small group in Florida asking you to remove your ads from a TV show because they think it’s anti-American, but you can prepare various responses that encompass these types of things.

      • @ginidietrich I think we get lulled into a sense of security. Nothing happens…and nothing happens…and suddenly: BOOM! there it is. The key, I guess, is to mostly be aware that this thing can happen at any moment, for reasons you can’t even fathom.

        It may sound trite, but the old saying, “Expect the unexpected” certainly holds true.

        • @KenMueller@ginidietrich Ken we are lucky our clients are the Eye of the Tigers. So much easier to work with them.

          and I thought it was American to be Anti-American

        • ginidietrich

          @KenMueller It’s like having insurance. You have it just in case.

        • ginidietrich

          @KenMueller It’s like having insurance. You have it just in case.

        • John_Trader1

          @KenMueller@ginidietrich I think Ken means, “Whoop, there it is.”

  • The Florida Family Association is a fringe hate-group & Dave Caton is a bigot who gained notoriety fighting LGBT rights. chose not to renew their advertising during the show, but their CEO was open about why – because the show was beyond terrible. Lowe’s caved – and completely alienated a pretty large portion of their customer base. I won’t spend another dime there.

    • @jasonkonopinski I thought FFA was the Frankfooter Fricassee Analprobes.

    • ginidietrich

      @jasonkonopinski And they caved because the show is “controversial.” It’s not any more controversial than the Kardashians or Real Housewives.

      • @ginidietrich It was ‘controversial’ in the eyes of the FFA only because it featured non-white, non-Christians. Like I said before, Dave Caton (the executive director of FFA) is a bigot. Lowe’s pandered to this fringe group and de facto made the whole thing about race and religion – which was the exact agenda of FFA.

      • @ginidietrich@jasonkonopinski less controversial. My girlfriend made me watch a Kardashian episode during thanksgiving. People call me Alien.

        • ginidietrich

          @HowieSPM@jasonkonopinski Seriously.

  • Gini,

    Shame on Lowes. I heard this story last week and was shocked! I was thinking, “Did I miss something on the show? Was there porn, drugs, even hatred? No. ” I was baffled to why Lowe’s, and other advertisers, decided to pull out. The show has that feel that you are simply watching your own crazy family. They could be Catholic, Jewish, Methodist, Atheist, whatever, the bottom line is they are normal people.

    I understand that there is an agenda behind the show, to help bring to light that Muslim families are no different than any other American family, culturally. They are doing a great job at it. This is not negative at all. And of course, TLC will sensationalize some of it, duh. But there is no hatred or terrorist background agenda going on.

    Lowes needed to do their homework before pulling out and offending so many people. Muslims need to buy tools, mow their lawns and fix the roof too. I assume they will be shopping Home Depot from now on.

    Lowes, get your head out of your asses and tweet that you won’t be caving to narrow minded idiots!


    • ginidietrich

      @AllieRambles I’ve been watching the whole thing with great interest. I don’t get it one bit. If I were in their communication department and we got the email urging us to pull our advertising because the show is “anti-American,” I would have laughed out loud. Literally. And then I would have had the balls to stand up to the executives to say it’s ridiculous. This only makes Lowe’s look bad. Nothing good came of it except to make FFA happy.

  • Case in point. I have a reach of 37.5 people. I KNOW (say it with true San Fernando Valley intonation) that is why my Klout is so high. And you recall I got in a tiff over the K-Cup thing. And did you change your list? Even though others agreed expanding the reach to 46.2 people? No you held your ground.

    Where Lowe’s went wrong is posting an explanation on their Facebook page. I mean who does that? Totally ridiculous. I bet they have plenty of products coming from iffy sources whether that is factories in china or materials possibly depleting forests or hurting the scruffy endangered ground chipmunk…and they do nothing. Then a racist organization very similar to the Taliban complains and they yank the ads?

    That said media buying is complicated. As you noted they advertise on Lifetime and I am sure were not aware where their ads air possibly. Maybe one of the smartest folks on the Twitter benkunz can come in and teach us a bit about this hopefully. I have to assume a Fortune 500 B2C company just dumps a boatload of $$ into Ben’s lap and says spend it and he does and prints a report out that shows 723 line items that they just skim for reach and ratings. Maybe more.

    • ginidietrich

      @HowieSPM Who makes up the .2 of a person?

      I agree they shouldn’t have posted on their FB page. We always recommend clients answer the criticism where it’s being flamed…which was NOT on FB for these guys. But the reason I didn’t mention that in my blog post is because it’s more about standing your ground if your strategy is sound, rather than giving in to the vocal minority.

      • @ginidietrich@HowieSPM They posted on FB? What’s FB?

        • @KenMueller@ginidietrich LOL!

  • KatrinaME

    @skypulsemedia thanks for sharing the Lowe’s story. I kept asking myself ‘why would they just listen to some random group?!’

  • I think these orgs heard about your Moron Award, Gini. And they all really want to be considered.

    • ginidietrich

      @jacque_PR LOL!! Seriously. I thought about giving it to them, but I have a couple of REALLY juicy ones in my drafts folder.

    • ginidietrich

      @jacque_PR LOL!! Seriously. I thought about giving it to them, but I have a couple of REALLY juicy ones in my drafts folder.

      • @ginidietrich@jacque_PR Seriously, you might as well just offer a Moron of the Week award.

        • ginidietrich

          @KenMueller@jacque_PR Or of the year.

        • @ginidietrich@jacque_PR give one every week. then at the end of the year, have a poll to name one the moron of the year

        • mdyoder

          I agree with Ken. There are more than enough examples to give one every week. @KenMueller @ginidietrich @jacque_PR

        • ElissaFreeman

          @ginidietrich@KenMueller@jacque_PR Ok..I think Gini should do an end of year post entitled “And the Moron of the Year Award goes to….”

  • jenzings

    Echoing @jacque_PR , I think the Moron Award must be coveted.

    The entire Lowe’s flap was so completely, utterly, avoidable. And the Facebook apology was beyond stupid, because once it was posted there every conceivable type of nut came out of the woodwork, causing Lowe’s to COMPOUND the problem by not moderating incredibly hateful crap. (They answered with wanting to remain transparent in social media, a truly baffling misunderstanding of social. You should not delete comments on a FB page just because they are critical of the company. You can AND SHOULD moderate the page so that offensive stuff doesn’t take hold.)

    They managed to create not one, but two separate PR crises based on this. I’m really, really surprised.

    • ginidietrich

      @jenzings Great point about creating a separate crisis on FB. AllFacebook is keeping a running tab of the more than 12,000 comments. It’s kind of funny, if you have 15 minutes to spare.

      • @ginidietrich@jenzings it was over 24,000 comments and worse was half were Americans being racists. Racism is alive and well in the US. Hope america is proud.

        • @HowieSPM@ginidietrich@jenzings Racism is alive and well in the world. Ever read about what happens at some of the soccer games in Europe.

          Africa burns and no one cares. That is not to discount the comments about America, but I am a skeptic about the world in general.

  • jelenawoehr

    I spent $700 at Home Depot instead of at Lowes in the past week because of this story. I’m remodeling a downstairs bathroom and was going to buy from Lowes — I like the local one’s service and products a little better — but chose Home Depot instead after I heard about this. As a woman of Jewish heritage, I’m a little sensitive to antisemitism, which is EXACTLY what Islamophobia is.

    I’m going to send Lowes a copy of my $700 receipt from Home Depot and let them know they are welcome to charge that loss to whichever moron decided that it would be a good idea to attack Muslims and then just dig the hole deeper in “explaining” it. American Muslims are my brothers and sisters, and they are also fellow Semitic people of a non-majority faith in America. Attack them, and you lose my business, quite likely permanently.

    • @jelenawoehr Islamaphobia and antisemitism are not the same things, not by a long shot but that is a separate issue altogether.

      • jelenawoehr

        @TheJackB Oh, really? Care to explain what the difference is between two examples of hateful, bigoted rhetoric advocating for the extermination of a Semitic ethnic group and that group’s religious practices? I’m from Colorado. We have Tom “Bomb Mecca” Tancredo here, and we elected him to Congress, repeatedly. Trust me on this one. The hatred comes from the same place, and it will lead if unchecked TO the same place.

        • @jelenawoehr Jelena, I don’t want to hijack the thread so I’ll keep this short. In terms of population Indonesia is home to the largest number of Muslims in the world. They are not semitic.

          From a historical perspective if you search for antisemitism the reference is towards Jews. There has been a minor virtually inconsequential effort to include Arabs as part of that, but that is really inaccurate and purely political.

          I am in agreement with you that advocate hatred and genocide is wrong, but Islamophobia and antisemitism are not the same thing and should not be discussed as if they are.

        • jelenawoehr

          @TheJackB I think we’ll have to agree to disagree here. There are non-semitic Jews as well (in fact, I’m descended from non-semitic Russian Jews), but they are also included when antisemitism is discussed. The reality, though, is that hijacking the conversation with nitpicking about the terminology I choose takes away from the most important point here: Lowes chose to cave to the demands of a hate organization whose entire purpose is to advocate against gays, Muslims, and other minority groups. Therefore, Lowes deserves a Moron Award and does not deserve my business.

        • @jelenawoehr We agree that Lowes is wrong, but words are important and significant which is why I pointed out that you used antisemitism incorrectly. It is not the proper use of the term and incorrect use minimizes the effect of its proper use.

        • jelenawoehr

          @TheJackB I disagree with you there. Words evolve over time, and I have yet to face anywhere near the level of hostility for my Jewish heritage that my Muslim friends face for theirs. If anyone has a right today to “the effect of its proper use” (that is, to connect a behavior with the shocking and horrifying atrocities perpetuated by antisemites) it is Muslims. A coordinated campaign against antisemitism by most of the world for the last 70 years has made it very possible to be “openly Jewish” and never face any sort of discrimination in America. Muslims deserve the same, and I don’t see why they should have to start over in building awareness when there is already a term that applies to the same behavior, against nearly ethnically identical people, for the same reasons, that has already been inserted into the public’s consciousness as wrong and unacceptable.

        • ginidietrich

          @jelenawoehr@TheJackB Jelena, be careful. Jack is Dear Abby and he might write a column about how to remodel your basement without the use of any hardware/DIY store.

        • @ginidietrich@jelenawoehr Gini, I just might. Used to work in construction and I know a million different tricks.

        • @jelenawoehr Ah, see we still disagree here. The fact that you haven’t experienced any hostility doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist or has gone away. Discrimination doesn’t die because we don’t hear or see it.

          When people don’t know your background they often speak very differently than when they know who you are.

          Some words do evolve but it doesn’t happen just because we want it to or think that it should. There is no reason to try and misappropriate the word when it doesn’t fit. We already established that the largest population of Muslims is in Indonesia. They aren’t Semitic people.

          Your effort to intentionally mischaracterize and misuse the word is exclusionary and creates problems that should never exist.

          When we talk about Islamophobia it is understood that we are talking about a fear of Islam. When we talk about why it is unreasonable and shouldn’t happen we understand. The operative word in that last sentence is “we” because we need the message to be understood not garbled.

        • jelenawoehr

          @ginidietrich@TheJackB How about without the use of contractors who mix tile set in my kitchen pots and pans without asking first? I need to read that one.

  • ginidietrich

    @jasonkonopinski You going to cook anything good between now and the end of the year? I need inspiration

    • jasonkonopinski

      @ginidietrich Hmmmm – perhaps I can inspire you. Does this need to be a Gini-friendly meal? 🙂

      • ginidietrich

        @jasonkonopinski Not necessarily. I just need inspiration. Period.

  • Lowes was foolish and their response was ridiculous. I am not a fan of knee jerk reactions and to a large extent that is what this was. They could and should have anticipated this reaction and then planned for it.

    It would have saved them a lot of trouble.

    • danielnewmanUV

      @TheJackB I agree…what a BS response!

    • ginidietrich

      @TheJackB I’m not a fan of knee jerk reactions, either. The interview where they say it’s not a political or social decision kills me.

  • John_Trader1

    I suppose with the ongoing severe fracturing of our marketplace into consumer groups that have ultra specialized tastes and beliefs that it will become increasingly difficult for companies to react when there is controversy for fear of not fully understanding what power a certain group wields on the influence of the market as a whole. From reading the comments below, it appears that the Florida Family Association is rather extreme and out of whack with their views so probably should not have been considered a threat that could fuel a bigger backlash against the core Lowe’s customer base.

    You’re right about companies needing to have thicker skins (like, the ice level of a frozen Canadian pond in the dead of winter thick) when it comes to advertising and stop daintily tip toeing around for fear of upsetting a few when their goal is to reach their mass core audience, which it appears that Lowe’s was a little foggy about exactly who they were. Who exactly is steering this ship at Lowe’s?

    • ginidietrich

      @John_Trader1 I know how hard it is to stay the course and manage a strategy when you have such vocal outreach. But, if you know your strategy and are confident in how minor the vocals are, you can address it with, “We hear you, but this is our strategy so we’re staying the course.”

  • danielnewmanUV

    I think it is funny how many companies are doing the “Throw the line in the water thing, and then react to the crowds response”

    Did we forget the whole know your customer, know your market, know your values, know your vision thing?

    Are we so desperate for reach and metrics that we will sell our souls?

    Lowes is in a lot of trouble and this is one of the reasons why.

    • ginidietrich

      @danielnewmanUV So many business leaders are saying, “Get us a Facebook page!” Or “Check out this Google+ thing” and people are doing it without regard to what it really means. The whole customer, market, values, vision thing is forgotten online. It’s weird.

  • It gets worse if you think about it some. Lowe’s advertises pretty heavily on TLC, so some of their ads probably air during “Toddlers & Tiaras”. Contrast that with their statement:

    “We just knew that it was a controversial program and we wanted to reach consumers. A controversial program is not a great place to do that.”

    How much complaining, and in what form, is necessary to make something “controversial”? How does something rise to meet their attention and/or threshold for pulling ads?

    • ginidietrich

      @wabbitoid Like Jon Stewart said, “They’re advertising on THE LEARNING CHANNEL where they expose toddlers and teenaged mothers.”

  • Was at my local Lowes last night at 6 PM and it was dead. Totally dead.

    Ironically, I was there because of some really solid and interesting marketing. So goo I took a picture of it and planned to blog about it one day.

    But I wondered while there if this might have contributed to the lack of business being done.

    • @Sean McGinnis I doubt it. People have a NIMBY attitude and will shop where it is convenient for them without much regard for politics.

      • ginidietrich

        @TheJackB@Sean McGinnis I’m with Jack – I doubt it, too. I think it’s more likely the time of year than this debacle.

    • robindeacle

      @Sean McGinnis I actually just went across town to HD to spend about $500 for some house upgrade materials because of this. Lowe’s is less than 1 mile a way.

  • danieleagee

    @ginidietrich The thought is that most of their customers are conservative, not liberal. I’ll be shocked if this hurts sales at all.

    • ginidietrich

      @danieleagee That’s crazy. How can you say that DIYers are all conservative? Total BS

  • TylerOrchard

    @ginidietrich thinking? I don’t know if that word was even passed around the boardroom. They were a puppet of a ideological view.

    • ginidietrich

      @TylerOrchard You’re totally right

  • djfunkyslick1


    I work for Lowes and I can tell you the backlash has been 10x worse then one little letter from some group. We recently received communication from the “gods” of advertising explaining their decision. The goal to reach customers of course being front and center. My question to them was, what about all of the Muslims in my district that but Lowes?
    I found it to not only be an anti-American move, but very premature on Lowes part. Of course banning all of us from speaking to the media is their protection. Every store in my district has Muslim shoppers…..and regardless; if your goal is to reach customers, then it should be ALL customers. They were very reactionary and not startegic at all as you so clearly point out….well done!

    • ginidietrich

      @djfunkyslick1 Wow. I thought I was about to get a tongue lashing. I totally agree with you – it should be ALL customers. The fact that this organization said the show is anti-American and asked all the advertisers to pull… and then Lowe’s did…says more about the leadership than anything. What a sad state.

  • ginidietrich

    @jacque_PR You and I are doing awesome on the Moron Award

  • ginidietrich

    @KatSKrieger LOL! That Moron Award is catching on

    • KatSKrieger

      @ginidietrich It is such an apt title!!

      • ginidietrich

        @KatSKrieger I think I should have a badge made for it

        • KatSKrieger

          @ginidietrich Yes please! You could sell it too and make royalties every time one gets awarded…you’d be rich tomorrow!!

  • ginidietrich

    @nittyGriddyBlog Were your ears burning earlier?

  • ginidietrich

    @CourtV I miss you. I feel like I need to see your face once a month now.

    • CourtV

      @ginidietrich Ha! Well you kind of see my face on the thumbnails 🙂 Would love 2 plan a trip to Chi-town sometime soon – u can be my excuse!

  • ginidietrich

    @hriefs What he said

  • OneJillian

    cost-cutting catch22: what if we need more than graphics from our agency? // @ginidietrich Lowe’s Caves w/o Strategy

    • ginidietrich

      @OneJillian Ha!

  • KatherineBull

    I’ve actually watched several episodes and they are not at all like the Kardashians. It is more about living as Muslim in America (hence the title) but it is done in a thoughtful, respectful way. I’ve learned quite a lot from it.

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