Muslim market still holds untapped potential for marketers

Despite the considerable buying power of US Muslims, few national brands appear to be reaching out to this demographic.

Despite the considerable buying power of US Muslims, few national brands appear to be reaching out to this demographic. Professionals in the industry cite difficulty in religious-based marketing and post-9/11 prejudice as roadblocks.

A 2007 study from JWT showed that American Muslims spending power equals more than $170 billion, giving forward-thinking brands room to benefit from establishing ties to this community now. An October 2009 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, found more than 2.5 million Muslims living in the US.

"It's a population that has economic vibrancy in the US market," says Marian Salzman, president of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, who worked on the JWT study in 2007. “In many ways, our prejudices have kept us from really turning them into what it could have been… I think the numbers are going to drive people."

Mostapha Saout, CEO of Allied Media, which is working on outreach to Arabic, Armenian, and Russian communities, among others, for the 2010 Census, notes that even the terminology can be fraught with pitfalls.

"When you say ‘Muslim', you are going across the board to different ethnicities, different countries of origin, different sensitivities," he says.

At the same time, “There are a lot of attractive perks for corporate America to reach out to them,” adds Allied account manager, Jalal Sayed.

A handful of companies, such as Best Buy, are taking the risk, as the Los Angeles Times pointed out in an article on the topic. Although some criticized the retailer for wishing consumers "Happy Eid al-Adha" in advertising last year, it stuck with its plan, defending its position in a statement.

Western Union focused a US campaign around the celebration of Ramadan last year, targeting different ethnic groups from the Middle East and Pakistan, many of whom are Muslims.

"Ramadan is one of the key sending periods for our customers," says Maher Kayali, marketing manager for the US to Middle East and Pakistan for Western Union.

The company hosted a "Fly Home" contest, where Western Union customers were entered to win air travel vouchers. Kayali was able to inform the winners in Arabic. So far, the company has not experienced any backlash for its effort, he added.

Sayed says there is some interest from big corporations on a local level, noting that the Detroit area is one that has a growing Muslim population. In fact, since 2000, McDonald's restaurants in the area have offered halal chicken McNuggets.

Agencies, too, are beginning to notice the potential. Ogilvy has said it plans to focus on Islamic branding globally in the coming year. John Goodman, president of Ogilvy Action Asia/Pacific, tells PRWeek via e-mail that while the rest of the world is catching on, the US still lags behind in its efforts to reach this market.

"At the moment in the US, the risk is higher than the reward," he says. "This is not the case in much of Western Europe, and of course there are major international markets for American multinationals where Muslims are either a majority or significant minority.”

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