Islam, Bong Hits & Advertising '08

09 Oct 2007

muslim_girl_magazine.jpgBrands and Ad Agencies have lately taken note of the $170 Billion purchasing power of Muslims in North America.

Halal Chicken McNuggets for customers.
Ikea hijabs for employees.
Ramadan Sales for all?

And as Madison Avenue develops campaigns for this newly acknowledged demographic, I’m curious to see if there will be nuance in the advertising. Or will it just be the Islamic equivalent of simplistic sombreros and soul claps – with every third word being “Allah”. Dunno. Still waiting to see a hijab in a national TV spot….one smart brand might start with this soccer player:

Thinking about this ‘new’ consumer base brought up hazy memories of Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. The brilliance of this film is that it was the first time a Hollywood pic featured an Indian-American and a Korean-American as “Red Blooded American Males”. Like millions of other American men in the 18-34 demographic, Harold & Kumar’s prime objective was the holy trinity of Bong Hits, Bare Breasts + Burgers. Ever present were their races and cultures, but instead of being mined as tropes for pathos or the exotic, they were well employed as one of many narrative and comic elements.

So what of this? Well many folks we know loved H&K as the FIRST bawdy blockbuster that spoke to their same-but-different status. What brand can do this? What agency can do this? I posit that there are still many millions of American consumers who have not yet seen a campaign that actually engages them with this intelligent duality. Does it matter? Even though we’re still stuck with many dated, even pernicious, cliches, our industry is not built to serve the common good, it’s about the bottom line.

So let’s frame it like this: Whichever brands can deftly tap into these markets, going beyond the easy sell, will see quite the windfall. And with the ever increasing number of platforms to reach the consumer, which can disseminate risk, I’ll wager we’ll see it soon.


10/7/07: Nigeria, Nokia & Ramadan

12/9/08: private/public lives and representational politics on TV

4/4/08: Holland is probably the Western country that has the highest % Muslim population. Read more about business and advertising at Islam in Europe.

4/18/08: Islam, Cosplay & comic books.

4/27/08: John Cho, Harold of White Castle, talks about choosing his roles

4/29/08: Oliver Wang talks about the social value of H&K 2 being mundane.

5/5/08 As The World Turns & Islam

September 2008 conference in Berlin about Islamic Consumer Culture. MHB was invited to submit an abstract for it…will keep ya posted.


  1. 16 Oct 2007 Jett

    Of course it’s possible!

    I tend to believe that New Yorkers tend to forget about the rest of that land-mass out there called the United States. To paraphrase from a great musical, “New York is the center of everything.” To which the reply is, “New York is the center of New York.”
    That may be a bit extreme, but people seem to forget that there is an entire country outside of this little island called Manhattan.

    I’m originally from Ohio; all of the prejudice, racial slurs and stereotypes I know I learned in NYC!!

    Progress is certainly being made, but in many ways, this city is NOT the “melting pot” it often claims to be. Immigrants often stay within their own, closed communities, except for when they take public transportation. 2nd and 3rd generation citizens refer to themselves as “Italian” or “Ukrainian” or “Irish” or “Dominican” rather than AMERICAN, even though they may have never traveled out of New York City. We are a country, and city, in search of an identity.

    I think advertisers would do well to remember that there is a lot of land, and a lot of consumers, between NYC and LA; these consumers are often already more accepting of diversity than consumers residing in NY & LA.

    Sighting Harold & Kumar… was very apt. It is truly refreshing, and more realistic in a lot of ways, to see people of ethnic diversity acting like AMERICANS. Not even Americans, but PEOPLE. HUMANS.

    Often it feels like the entire world is searching for a new, global identity. In a world where there are organizations devoted to preserving languages that are dying out, people are struggling to hold on to some form of identity and history.

    We live in interesting times, folks…


  2. 18 Oct 2007 MHB

    @ Jett.
    “New York is the center of New York” Love it, so true. The coasts are certainly no more ‘advanced’ in their view on the duality of hyphenated americans.

  3. 22 Oct 2007 JA

    Not necessarily regarding Muslims or America, but a clear example of a carefully considered cross-pollination of cultural elements, Alef Magazine fuses western fashion aesthetics with Arab culture and identity. A beautiful book as well, pick it up if you want to kick back and imagine the million ways the world might fit together.