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Misdirected Ire: Why I'll Keep Using Kayak

12/15/2011 01:31 pm ET | Updated Feb 14, 2012

Recently, a group called the Florida Family Association sent a number of messages to its "thousands of supporters" asking them to write emails to companies whose advertisements appeared during a program on the TLC network called All-American Muslim. Those messages "encouraged supporters to send emails to the companies that advertised during the first three weeks that the program aired." Among those advertisers were Lowe's, the home improvement retailer, and Kayak.com, a travel search site.

FFA's main complaint against the program, which documents the lives of five families in Dearborn, Michigan, is that the episodes are almost exclusively "Muslim-tolerant." Disliking a program for its content is a perfectly reasonable position -- no matter how many times I try, I just don't find The Big Bang Theory funny -- but the organization also contends that the program actively deceives viewers, that it "profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish." By implying that freely practicing a religion is contrary to American values, FFA shows its membership to be not only unfamiliar with the nation's founding principles but also bigoted against those who do not share their "traditional, biblical values."

Since the debut of All-American Muslim, FFA claims that the group has sent more than 700,000 emails that are directly responsible for companies "pulling" their ads from the show. But the truth is more murky. Writes Home Depot of the letter writing campaign: "Although one of our commercials did appear during one of these episodes, we are not a sponsor of this show."

Which brings us to Kayak, another TLC advertiser, which operates a website where consumers can search for airfares, hotels and car rentals. Kayak, which makes money through referral fees by sending its users to other websites to book trips, has a very strong incentive to encourage people to travel, an experience that will broad their horizons and experience new cultures. No wonder the company very vocally defended itself from charges that it "pulled" its ads: Its mission stands in stark contrast to FFA's anti-Muslim, bible-centric worldview.

Kayak's Chief Marketing Officer Robert Birge wrote on December 14: "We didn't 'pull' our ads. Our ads kept running on this program, but we have made the decision not to give TLC more money when the show returns in January." Further explaining the process by which companies, including his own, purchase television advertising, CEO Steve Hafner updated Birge's blog post today:

We're a small company with fewer than 200 employees, and we advertise on a lot of TV shows. We don't have the resources to vet the content of each show. We also continually adjust our media mix -- meaning we start, stop, and restart advertising on specific shows periodically. ... We do try to avoid advertising on shows that may produce controversy, whether we support the content or not.

While Kayak's explanation seems mostly forthcoming -- some mild skepticism about their side of the story has appeared, particularly because Discovery Communications, which owns TLC, has remained silent -- it remains unclear why so many of my friends have declared the travel site anti-Muslim simply because its ads will stop appearing on a program about Muslims. One person I know has written, rather amazingly, that continuing to use the Kayak iPhone app is an act of religious bigotry.

Companies advertise on television because they believe viewers of television will purchase their products or services. Will appearing next to certain programing give the impression that a company endorses the ideas presented in that programming? It seems so, but, no matter how much FFA doth protest, All-American Muslim is simply a documentary TV show.

One group of people here is trying to sell me the idea that a secret Muslim conspiracy is attempting to take over the very country that already allows its members to freely practice their religion in peace. The other group is trying to find me a cheap flight to the Caribbean. I'm only buying the latter.