Paul Holmes 13 Dec 2011 // 9:41PM GMT
Lowe’s is the latest company to find itself between a rock and a hard place as a result of a political or social issue in which it appears to be only tangentially involved. The American home improvement retailer Lowe’s was one of the companies advertising on American Muslim, a reality TV show airing on the relatively obscure TLC (formerly The Learning Channel). The show has impressed critics with its balanced and realistic portrayal of an ordinary Muslim family living in the United States. Unfortunately, the lack of sensationalism has not impressed The American Family Association, which contends that the show is “propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.” (Presumably, it “hides the Islamic agenda” by suggesting that some Muslims are, in fact, ordinary and decent Americans.) The AFA’s outrage led Lowe’s to pull its advertising from the show, and then to confirm its decision in a Facebook posting, explaining: “Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lightning rod for many of those views. As a result we did pull our advertising on this program. We believe it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individuals and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance. The (entirely predictable) response was a boycott threat and letter-writing campaign from those who do not support bigotry and religious intolerance, led by the consumer group SumOfUs, which is calling on Lowe’s CEO Robert Niblock to reinstate the company’s advertising. Companies finding themselves in this unfortunate situation have two choices: opting out—which is what Lowe’s tried to do—is unfortunately not one of them. The first option is to try to weigh the number of stakeholders (consumers, employees, shareholders, etc.) on one side of the issue against the number on the other and then go along with the majority view. This approach is problematic, in that opinions can change over time, the company needs to monitor them constantly, and lays itself open to the addition charge that it has no core values of its own. The second option is to look at your values and be guided by them. In this case, for example, Lowe’s claims a “dedication to diversity and inclusion.” If the company is sincere about that commitment, then the decision to pull its advertising is clearly antithetical to its values and should be reversed immediately. If, on the other hand, that section of its responsibility report is just corporate bullshit, the company should feel free to be intimidated by the AFA’s campaign of hate. Tough choice.