Shame on Lowes for Pandering to Special Interests: When a Home Improvement Giant Could Use a Fixer-Up All its Own

Dec 15, 2011

“Never stop improving.”

Well, at least for Lowes, the above slogan parked in bold blue all caps on the top left corner of the home improvement giant’s webpage, it’s an appropriate start.

The question is how will the company’s recent public relations snafu ultimately pan out as their corporate brass has plenty to improve on now. (And we’re not talking basic roof repair) Earlier this week, the shopping behemoth that only days ago was about as far removed from politics as one of its featured bathroom redesigns, has landed itself in quite the brouhaha.

In yielding to mounting pressure from a variety of sources, including our very own Florida Family Association, (more on that later) the company pulled an ad it was running on commercial breaks for The Learning Channel’s All-American Muslim, a new reality TV show that purportedly shows real Muslims going about their daily lives – you know exactly like the rest of us. I don’t know about you, but the very fact that we need a program such as this to allay our tired and torturous fears of the proverbial “other” – in today’s day and age is frightening. But I digress.

As we enter the peak shopping days and weeks of the increasingly secular holiday season, you can bet this communications bombshell was not what Lowes was expecting. Already Google is working its magic. Google “Lowes” and the fallout from the pullout is the fourth hit. And with the decision making front pages news on on Tuesday and Connecticut congressman Chris Murphy addressing the matter on the House floor, calling Lowes’s decision a rubber stamp on “basic foundational bigotry against a major American religious group,” you can bet their troubles are only beginning.

From a public relations perspective, this is the kind of textbook nightmare we dread: an apolitical company becoming unintentionally embroiled in a very politicizing and polarizing mess. So all this begs the question, where did Lowes go wrong?

Lowes went wrong by not following the advice I wrote about in my recent Blagojevich blunder post. Louder voices aren’t more credible voices. And while the company continues to say that its ad pulling had nothing to do specifically with the Florida Family Association, a nonprofit whose web “About Us” description says the group aims to, “educate people on what they can do to defend, protect and promote traditional, biblical values,” it seems VERY likely that it was at least a contributing factor to a collection of below-the-radar narrow-minded people and groups.

Shame on Lowes for pandering toward groups that mask McCarthy-style witch-hunting in the guise of religious enlightenment –whether they’re a 501C3 or not.

There’s comes a point in any communications campaign where all the writers, all the support staff, all the leaflet designers, and press release pitchers, must step aside and let the company speak for itself – without the buffer PR teams necessarily provide. While Lowes has been diligently responding via Tweet and in the press, perhaps a more transparent apology would be in order –without our help. Until now Lowes CEO Robert Niblock, 48, has been mum on the controversy.

As Lowes closes out 2011 and opens 2012 searching for repair and replacement parts in its “corporate improvement” aisle, we can all rest comfortably knowing that the modern social media landscape and blogosphere won’t let red meat like this out from under its digital jaw grip easily. And if there’s a communications upside to any of this, All-American Muslim, which has enjoyed modest success with 908,000 to 1.7 million viewers since its November 13 launch, stands to gain at least something of a ratings bump following the buzz.

Then again, the show’s producers probably wished Lowes would never have gotten involved in the first place and “never stopped improving” their advertising campaigns somewhere else.

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