When Best Intentions Fail: Why Ads May Fall Short in Combating Islamophobia

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Increasing crimes against Muslims are evidence that Muslim Americans are being targeted, while political and media rhetoric has aided the rise of Islamophobia. In response, the Council on American-Islamic Relations initiated an advertising campaign to reframe the discourse. Relying on terror management theory as a foundation, this research leverages a sequential mixed-method approach to evaluate and analyze the ads, bringing together concepts of rhetorical articulation of politics, discourse analysis of media-based rhetoric, and complicity theory related to racism to understand contemporary political framing of Islam. A quantitative study determined one’s religious fundamentalism had an effect on the viewer’s attitude toward the ads. This was followed by a qualitative analysis of the ads based on Stern’s approach to advertisement critique. Triangulated results show that the ads reinforce cultural worldviews that frame Muslims as “other” that could entrench existing attitudes toward Muslim Americans. Suggestions are made for future advertising efforts to reframe the discussion.




Eric Van Steenburg (2020) When Best Intentions Fail: Why Ads May Fall Short in Combating Islamophobia, Journal of Current Issues & Research in Advertising, 41:2, 171-190, DOI: 10.1080/10641734.2020.1716895
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