A recent study by the nation's largest advertising firm shows that the Muslim American community has an estimated purchasing power of about $170 billion. JWT Advertising conducted the study, and it is now working with a wide variety of companies to develop strategies to attract Muslim American customers. VOA's Mohamed Elshinnawi examined the new trend in Dearborn, Michigan, near Detroit, where there is a dense population of Muslims.
JWT Advertising says companies in the Detroit area are leading the way in using the cultural aspects of the Muslim faith to expand their share of the Muslim American market.
Ann Mack is JWT's director of trends spotting. "Some marketers -- I am not going to name them specifically -- are having Ramadan advertisements," she says, "and because they are speaking specifically to these populations, they will appeal, they will resonate and those consumers will tend to gravitate towards these brands."
The study shows that the six to eight million Muslims in the United States are looking for recognition and respect, and that companies should make sure they are not neglecting or offending their community.
One company that is not is the Swedish furniture company IKEA. It has a store near Dearborn that initially attracted few Muslim shoppers. So the company consulted with Nasser Baydoun, Chairman of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce. He recalls, "What we were able to do was to teach them how to market to our community -- how does our community get its information, how do they choose which store they go to and how does IKEA create a working staff that is friendly to the community."
Ikea staff benefited from the diversity training, and became familiar with the Muslim community's needs. Lisa Allen is IKEA's public relations director. "When we are speaking to Arab Americans," she says, "we can connect with them on that level, talk about their needs. For IKEA, it is all about how our product solutions fit your needs and your life style."
A team of the company's designers and marketers visited Muslim Americans' homes to see how to adapt the stores' products to customers' customs and preferences. One plan is to offer decorations for the holy month of Ramadan and to add halal meals to the store's food menu. Muslim American shopper Ismail Hakki says he is looking forward to seeing such offerings. "Like decorations for Ramadan, for the Eid [celebration after Ramadan] too, like some [halal] food or some cloth for the Eid.
Other companies are planning innovative approaches to cater to Muslim Americans' needs. Amal Berry is the vice president of Comerica Bank. "Currently we are underway in a research project to understand exactly what Sharia law [Islamic law] says and whether the bank will be able to provide true Islamic bank products and services."
McDonald's in Detroit is offering halal chicken, Rite-Aide drug stores have Arabic signs and Comcast cable network is carrying the first nationwide Muslim American TV channel.
Fred Eaton is Comcast's director of corporate affairs. "Comcast offered Bridges TV the opportunity for carriage on our cable system. In fact, Detroit was the market where Bridges TV was first launched," he explained.
Marketing experts say advertising for the Muslim American community is a win-win situation. They say American companies will use it to expand their market share, while Muslim Americans will enjoy recognition and respect.