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Twelve months ago American Muslims were fired up with optimism that the moment had come for U.S. brands to embrace them. In a struggling market, 7 million Muslim consumers with an estimated spending power of more than $170 billion seemed to have come of age at the very moment when brands were in greater need than ever of new growth opportunities.
But 12 months later brands still appear ambivalent despite the open arms with which Muslim consumers are inviting them in. So why are brands hesitant to commit themselves to serving this powerful demographic? It’s been a tumultuous year. The controversy over the mis-named “Ground Zero” mosque grabbed headlines around the world. Media-baiting Pastor Jones threatened to burn the Qur’an. Osama Bin Laden was killed. The 10th anniversary of 9/11 came and went.
Despite the events of the past year, American Muslims continue to remain optimistic about their place in American society. In a Gallup poll released in August of this year 60 percent of American Muslims said they are “thriving.” Dalia Mogahed, the director of the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center which published the report, added that Muslims “feel a greater sense of belonging in their country” than they did in 2008.
Last year, U.S. consumer electronics retailer Best Buy prompted a backlash when it referenced the Muslim festival of Eid in a holiday flyer. Best Buy stood by its decision, winning the support of Muslim consumers in the process.
This year’s marketing campaign by health food supermarket chain Whole Foods to promote Saffron Road halal foods during the month of Ramadan also faced criticism. They too held firm, sales went up 300 percent and Whole Foods acquired a new segment of customers. Just last month, TV channel TLC began airing an eight-part series calledAll-American Muslim, which follows the lives of five American Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan. The pilot episode pulled the second-highest ratings of the station’s reality TV shows, beaten only by Sarah Palin’s Alaska.
But other Muslim-centric content has fallen foul of the political climate. A new superhero cartoon series called The 99, based on the Islamic idea of God having 99 attributes, was bought by a mainstream American channel. With the inflamed political backdrop, the channel has shelved it indefinitely. This is a case where courage is much needed.
There is great precedent for American brands reaching out to segments that are part of the fabric of American life, even in the face of objections. In 1911, Procter & Gamble was the first company to advertise that its vegetable shortening product, Crisco, was kosher. Whole Foods increased sales by 300 percent by selling Saffron Road Halal products In 1915 the New York State Legislature enacted the United States’ first Kosher Food Law, which was to serve as a model for all subsequent kosher food legislation. This law has been challenged again and again by those who claim it is unconstitutional, but it has stood the test of time.
The lesson from these examples is that courage and investment in communities pay off. Muslims will respect and show loyalty to brands that support them in the public space. They are not asking for political or media support. In fact they want brands to avoid the political discourse and treat them as mainstream consumers with mainstream needs.
They are not reaching out to Quakers either, or Atheists, Sieks or Jains. Maybe because, unlike islamic nations, one’s religion is secondary to one’s consumer status? Really, the reason so many people are becoming increasingly hostile to islamic ideology is not ‘islamophobia’ but the fact that you keep shoving it in our faces, as though it made you somehow special. Get over yourselves, just be Americans.