Three years ago AdWeek ran a column that argued it was time to start marketing to U.S. Muslims and capitalizing on $170 billion of annually disposable income. Few paid heed, but it looks like Best Buy, which ran a “Happy Eid al-Adha” ad before Thanksgiving, did:
Best Buy is believed to be the first major retailer to market to Muslims nationwide, and only a few are even dipping their toes into direct ethnic local advertising.
Rather than pave the way for more national advertising, the Best Buy ad seems to have reinforced the pariah status that Muslims have in mainstream marketing and to serve as an example of why “Happy Eid” won’t join “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah” as a mainstay in holiday advertising any time soon.
“Obviously the Muslim market has some unique sets of challenges. . . . That’s not something to be glossed over,” said Rafi-uddin Shikoh, founder of DinarStandard, a consulting firm specializing in the Muslim market.
Other immigrant and minority groups have faced similar treatment from advertisers, but the U.S. Muslim community carries heavier baggage.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and with more recent incidents, such as the Ft. Hood shooting and attempted Christmas Day plane bombing, the word “Muslim” for some Americans is synonymous with terrorism. And that’s an image that corporations don’t want attached to their brand names.
A recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 35% of Americans have a negative view of Muslims and 45% believe Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence.
Even those championing marketing to Muslim consumers—like Shikoh—advise Western companies not to do what Best Buy did. Instead, in a move that seems both practical and defeatist, they recommend directing advertising in ethnic and religious media and away from the mainstream.
“At this point, I don’t know if there’s a real need for a national campaign,” Shikoh said. “They are curious to see if there is a way to tap into this market without risking their reputation or it backfiring in any way.”