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Lowe's stands by decision to pull ads

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By MAE ANDERSON
AP Retail Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- Lowe's is planning to stick by its decision to yank its ads from a reality TV show about American Muslims despite the growing opposition the home improvement chain is facing over the move.

California Sen. Ted Lieu put a statement out on Sunday that he is considering calling for a boycott of Lowe's Cos., sparking criticism of the chain from both inside and outside of the Muslim community.

On social media web site Twitter, actor Kal Penn began directing people to a petition on signon.org in support of the TLC cable network show, "All-American Muslim." By Monday afternoon, there were about 9,200 signatures.

On Monday, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who is Muslim, released a statement condemning Lowe's for choosing "to uphold the beliefs of a fringe hate group and not the creed of The First Amendment."

And Democratic state Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit, the first Muslim elected to the Michigan Legislature, voiced her concerns directly with the company. She wrote a letter to Lowe's CEO Robert Niblock.

"I told them I was extremely disappointed that you give credibility to these hate groups," Tlaib said. "People of Muslim faith are being attacked. It's disappointing, disheartening."

Meanwhile, Lowe's, based in Mooresville, said it stands by its Sunday statement that it pulled the ads after the show became a "lightning rod for people to voice complaints from a variety of perspectives - political, social and otherwise." The company also said that "dozens" of other advertisers pulled their advertising from the show.

"All-American Muslim" premiered last month and chronicles the lives of five families who live in and near Dearborn, MI, a Detroit suburb with a large Muslim and Arab-American population. TLC spokeswoman Laurie Goldberg said "All-American Muslim," which airs on Mondays on TLC and ends its first season on Jan. 8, has
garnered a little over a million viewers per week.

"We stand behind the show 'All-American Muslim,' and we're happy the show has strong advertising support," she said.

Lowe's stopped running commercials during "All-American Muslim" after a conservative group known as the Florida Family Association e-mailed companies to ask them to stop advertising on the show. The group said the program is "propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values."

Florida Family Association, based in Tampa, said that more than 60 advertisers that it e-mailed, from Amazon to McDonalds, have also stopped advertising on the show. But so far, Lowe's is the only major company to confirm that it pulled ads from the show.

Amazon and McDonald's and other advertisers did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Meanwhile, Atlanta-based Home Depot, which was cited by Florida Family Association as a company that stopped advertising, said Monday it never intended to run any ads during the show. But spokesman Stephen Holmes said one commercial ran "inadvertently and without our knowledge."

The controversy highlights the fine line companies must walk when they select shows to advertise on.

Branding expert Laura Ries said Lowe's made two mistakes. The first was advertising during a show that could be construed as controversial. The second was pulling advertising too quickly.

"For a big national brand like Lowe's, they've always got to be incredibly careful when advertising during any show that could be deemed controversial," she said. "Will it seriously damage the brand in the long term? Probably not. But it is a serious punch in the stomach."

Overall, analysts said the furor is unlikely to damage Lowe's brand in the long term.

"For a company that generates $50 billion in annual revenue, I don't view this as something that will have a meaningful impact," said Morningstar analyst Peter Wahlstrom. "I'm hopeful this blows over and I'm certain management is as well."

Still, some worry Lowe's ad flap could do damage to Muslims living in the Metro Detroit area.

Florida pastor Terry Jones held an anti-Islam rally earlier this year outside Dearborn City Hall after being barred from protesting outside a Muslim mosque in the city. A burning of the Quran in March at Jones's church in Florida led to a series of violent protests in Afghanistan that killed more than a dozen people.

"Metro Detroit and Dearborn have been the focal point of a number of anti-Muslim movements," said Dawud Walid, executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations' Michigan chapter. "There are organized forces in our society that want to marginalize American Muslims to the point where they don't want to see any portrayals of Muslims that regular Americans can connect to."

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Corey Williams in Detroit, Rachel Zoll in New York and Mitch Stacy in Tampa contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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