Kayak tortures logic in withdrawing from 'All-American Muslim'

It took heat for advertising on the TLC show, then withdrew--because, it said, the show is awful. Though it didn't quite phrase it that way.

This is a tale of communication and miscommunication.

Which so often happens when religion, education, fundamentalism and reality television attempt to achieve co-existence.

You might be aware that pressure has been applied to certain companies that happened to advertise on the TLC reality show "All-American Muslim."

The squeeze, coming as it did from the Florida Family Association, persuaded Lowe's to withdraw its constructive commercials from the show.

Online travel site Kayak also appeared to feel a shuddering frisson and withdrew its ads for the coming season.

As the clip I have embedded reveals, the FFA was upset that the show did not depict all-American Muslims as, well, dangerous. The organization felt this made the show non-educational.

Kayak, though, issued a statement to explain that no, no, this wasn't anything cultural, educational, religious, political or social. The company felt somewhat misled by TLC, but mostly just thought the show sucked.

No, really. The company's CMO, Robert Birge, uses the word "sucked."

His statement is a fascinating piece, one that suggested a difficult digestive system.

On the one hand, Birge declares quite wisely: "Our approach to advertising decisions is to choose advertising based on who watches it, not the political leaning of the program."

There is, indeed, a frightening naivete among some marketers who believe that viewers really do associate advertising with the show in which it is placed-- as if by advertising there, the brand is somehow endorsing the content.

If this were the case, every brand that advertised during a Kardashian show might be considered to believe in eugenics rather than education. Every brand that advertised during an NFL or baseball game might be suggesting it sees nothing wrong with HGH use.

And every brand that advertised during "The X Factor" (can you hear me now?) might be seen as agreeing that the ability to do something well is entirely secondary to the ability to be packaged as a temporary tool of glamor. Yes, like a cell phone.

Birge, though, spoils his logic by explaining that the reason Kayak advertised during "All-American Muslim" was: "We deemed the show a worthy topic."

But advertising isn't about worthy topics. It's about who's watching the show on The Learning Channel. Robert Birge just said so.

Worse, he actually says very early on in his note of contrition: "We decided to advertise on it in the first place because we adamantly support tolerance and diversity."

His explanation only becomes more painful as one reads on.

"When we received angry emails regarding our decision to advertise, I looked into the show more thoroughly," he says. But he already knew it was a "worthy topic."

"As I said, it's a worthy topic," he continues. "But any reasonable person would know that this topic is a particular lightning rod. We believe TLC went out of their way to pick a fight on this, and they didn't let us know their intentions."

Their intentions to show Muslims in a non-threatening light? Somehow, the explanation doesn't seem clear. Although he does admit that members of his own team were not happy at the way he marshaled the strategic withdrawal.

Birge then goes on to say of the show: "I also believe that it did this subject a grave disservice. Sadly, TLC is now enjoying the attention from this controversy."

Again, there seems no explanation of what sort of grave disservice was done here--other than, perhaps, the creation of yet another reality show.

Birge concludes that the company didn't feel pressured, wouldn't bow to pressure and did not bend to bigotry. It was, no, really, only, solely, well, perhaps not solely, but almost that "the show sucked."

His statement is aptly entitled: "We Handled This Poorly."

 

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