Tuesday, November 24

Blacklisting Best Buy: When Ads Go Bad


Best Buy seems to have found more than it bargained for after it ran a national Black Friday advertisement inviting the world to celebrate Thanksgiving and Eid al-Adha. Eid al-Adha?

In case you do not know, Eid al-Adha is a Muslim holiday, "Festival of Sacrifice" or "Greater Eid," celebrated to commemorate the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ismael as an act of obedience to God. The date it is celebrated is variable; this year it falls on Nov. 27. Regular charitable practices of the Muslim community are demonstrated during Eid al-Adha by the concerted effort to see that no impoverished person is left without sacrificial food during these days.

And from now on, Best Buy discounts too. The national retailer is standing by its decision.

Three reasons Best Buy is setting the foundation for its own crisis.

1. Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is identified with as a secular holiday in the United States. It began as an annual tradition in 1863 and a federal holiday in 1941. While it is sometimes tied to a religious observation in that some people give thanks to God, the primary celebration consists of bringing two cultures together for a harvest feast.

2. Christians. Christians are increasingly frustrated because tolerance does not seem to be a two-way street. In recent decades, it has been noticed that public, corporate, and government mention of the term "Christmas," for example, has been replaced with a generic term while other non-Christian holidays seem to have no cautionary constraints. Best Buy, specifically, does not allow Merry Christmas in its advertisements. It hasn't since 2006. (A Best Buy spokesperson has said it may be reversing that decision this year).

3. Muslims. While a spokesman for the Council on American-Isamic Relations said it makes perfect sense for a retailer to acknowledge and celebrate the holiday, one wonders if Muslims will feel the same way in considering the long-term commercialization of Eid Al-Adha. For example, national retailers do not generally recognize exclusively Christian holidays like Ash Wednesday. It is probably best if they do not.

The motivation, more than the message, is why Best Buy perplexes.

Best Buy's response — which draws attention to the fact that its customers and employees "around the world represent a variety of faiths and denominations. We respect that diversity and choose to greet our customers and employees in ways that reflect their traditions" — does not accurately reflect its past decisions to diminish other holiday greetings.

That seems to underpin the complaint and call to boycott Best Buy by some Christians, and not the lack of tolerance as suggested by anti-boycott proponents who have taken to defending the Muslim faith while making fun of those offended. The company, apparently attempting to capitalize on the confused state of the nation in regard to specific groups receiving a temporary "politically correct" pass, deserves some public backlash for its lack of public relations savvy.

From a public relations perspective, Best Buy is better served by a policy that embraces all faiths and denominations specifically or generally and not selectively or by PC popularity if it hopes to simultaneously include all those faiths and denominations. This might be especially true for a holiday like Thanksgiving, which is largely meant to be a non-religious, multi-cultural and national celebration regardless of how specific faiths and denominations choose to celebrate it.

From a more personal perspective, I neither support or oppose the ad nor do I support or oppose the boycott. I do, however, think that the pairing of Eid al-Adha and Thanksgiving demonstrates significant ignorance over the meaning of both holidays.

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