Estimates put the American Muslim population at six to eight million – a small but relatively unmined marketing ‘Mecca.’ The challenge of targeting this eclectic group remains somewhat daunting, although it’s worth about $200 billion.
Many Muslims are recent immigrants of Middle Eastern descent; but just as many are U.S. natives. Many are African-Americans. Some are traditionally religious and others secular. Research indicates they are less influenced by price and value, more aware of brand names, and more gender-specific.
National brands including Best Buy, Ann Taylor, ESPN, Verizon and U.S. Healthcare are showing up on Muslim-oriented websites such as hijabtrendz.com and chillyoislamyou.com, while Hallmark sells Eid cards for the end of Ramadan.
S. Saad Ahmed, director of sales and strategy for the Muslim Ad Network, tells Marketing Daily, "For a communications company, for example, someone offering calling plans that are specific to Egypt would want to use Egyptian Arabic, but in a more general sense, it might mention Eid — that holiday means it's time to call back home to Muslims of any nationality."
Using food as an example, Ahmed continues, "While the Halal market is roughly equivalent to the $200 billion Kosher market, there are no big brands reaching out to them."
Citing ConAgra's LaChoy products, soy rather than alcohol-based, and Tom's of Maine alcohol-free mouthwash, Ahmed continues "These brands are already kosher and Halal, so it's just about letting people know."
Best Buy was one of the first major retailers to market nationwide to Muslims including 'Happy Eid' in a holiday flyer along with Christmas and Hanukkah last year. But comments on their website echoed the anger left by 9/11/01 and many threatened to no longer shop at Best Buy.
A recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reports that 35% of Americans have a negative view of Muslims and 45% believe Islam encourages violence more than other religions.
Experts like Rafi-uddin Shikoh, founder of DinarStandard, a consulting firm specializing in the Muslim market, advise against nationally-targeted campaigns like Best Buy’s attempt – and advocate a less mainstream and more ethnically and religiously skewed approach.
"At this point, I don't know if there's a real need for a national campaign. They are curious to see if there is a way to tap into this market without risking their reputation or it backfiring in any way."
Maneuvering the tricky waters of marketing to groups within the American populace is not new. "We've been down this road before with other groups," Jerome Williams, professor of advertising and African American studies, the University of Texas at Austin said, referring to the 1960’s and featuring African Americans in advertising.
Williams references that companies were slow to do so – but ultimately, advertisers were attracted to the money. "They're not in the business of social justice. An advertiser does not want to do anything that will have negative impacts on sales. ... At the end of the day, they have to see if they've gained more than they've lost."