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Publix Calendar Marked 'Islamic New Year' on Pearl Harbor Day, Touching Marketing's Third Rail

Pity poor Publix (PUSH.OB), the supermarket chain that's strong in the South. It published its annual free calendar for shoppers and, just nine days in to the New Year, has already been forced to disown it. The reason: It marked Dec. 7 as "Islamic New Year." Unfortunately, Dec. 7 is also Pearl Harbor Day, which was not noted on the calendar.

You can guess the rest: Local conservative radio talk show host Joyce "America first. No apologies" Kaufman denounced the calendar and an email was sent out demanding a boycott of Publix. The store chain has since withdrawn the calendar and apologized.

The problem with all this is that Publix didn't do anything wrong. The calendar has been published the same way since 2006 -- it marks the major religious holidays and the national holidays. Islamic New Year (a movable feast also known as Muharram) happened to fall on Pearl Harbor Day this year -- and Pearl Harbor Day is not a national holiday. In fact, it has never been marked on the Publix calendar even though Islamic New Year has been on there for the last four years. Here's the company's explanation:

When we source our calendar, we ask our supplier to include: National holidays, Independence days, New Year's, Heritage months and Jewish high holidays.
Based on customer requests, our calendars have grown to include Boss's Day, Administrative Assistant's Day, Chinese New Year and Islamic New Year. Since first being included in 2006, the Islamic New Year has fallen on other dates (2006 (1/31), 2007 (1/20), 2008 (1/10), 2009 (12/18). In 2010, Islamic New Year will fall on December 7.
While no one can disagree that Pearl Harbor Day is an important day of remembrance for our country, our free calendar has never included Pearl Harbor Day since it is not a national holiday.
There are two lessons to be drawn from this. The first is that anything Islamic is becoming an untouchable third rail for marketers. Best Buy came in for similar treatment just before Christmas when it wished muslims a "Happy Eid al Adha" in a coupon circular (Best Buy stood by its ad). Broward County, Fla., considered banning muslim ads on buses this time last year.

The second is that there seems to be no end to U.S. consumers' willingness to be as ignorant as possible when it comes to other cultures -- in the same week KFC withdrew an ad in Australia because Americans mistook a joke about cricket for a racist stereotype.