Travel search engine Kayak woke up this morning to a social media nightmare, and it doesn’t have a clear end in sight. Late last night, the company pulled advertising from the reality TV show “All-American Muslim” on TLC, apparently because an  activist  organization, the Florida Family Association, condemned the show. According to the New York Times, the organization attacked the show as propaganda that obscures “the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.” So far 65 other companies have left the show, with Lowe’s and Kayak being the most recent and certainly highest profile. For example, Lowe’s, which pulled the ads on Saturday has over 25,000 comments posted on the company’s Facebook page.

From angry tweets and bitter Facebook posts, Kayak is currently under the guillotine in a public relations nightmare. Any search on Twitter or Facebook will result in pages upon pages of harsh comments about the Concord based company. And if you do search Twitter for Kayak, you will notice that competitor Orbitz is trying to capitalize on the current mess that Kayak is in, with promoted tweets.

Just as an example of how intense the mess they are in is. Here is an excerpt from a blog post.

And let them know what you think of them bowing to the bullying of three right wing, homophobic, racist, evangelical sect members – and pulling their ads from TLC’s “All American Muslim” which aims to show Americans that all Muslims aren’t Islamabombers with a deep, dark desire to kill the rest of us (God forbid somebody should have the balls to try and fight a stereotype that’s as detrimental and false as a step n fetch it doll).

And here is Kayak’s apology, which has actually infuriated the masses even more. What is Kayak’s next move here? Will you stop using the service now?

We Handled This Poorly

We would like to apologize to anyone who was offended by how we handled our decision not to continue advertising on All-American Muslim when it returns in January. We decided to advertise on it in the first place because we adamantly support tolerance and diversity. Our 150-person team includes people from all over the world, and from all walks of life. Our team includes people who are descended from early Europeans who came here escaping religious intolerance, and newer Americans who include many religions. We get what America is about.

For the record, 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.

Unfortunately, this decision comes across as bending to bigotry. It also appears that we did not support people who deserve support as people and as Americans. For that, I am profoundly sorry.

I should have communicated more clearly. We would not want anyone to think that we caved to hatred. I wish I could share some of the emails I’ve received from our team. They are also very unhappy with how I handled this.

Please allow me to explain the decision. First, our approach to advertising decisions is to choose advertising based on who watches it, not the political leaning of the program.

When we decided to give our money to TLC for this program, we deemed the show a worthy topic. When we received angry emails regarding our decision to advertise, I looked into the show more thoroughly.

The first thing I discovered was that TLC was not upfront with us about the nature of this show. As I said, it’s a worthy topic, but any reasonable person would know that this topic is a particular lightning rod. We believe TLC went out of their way to pick a fight on this, and they didn’t let us know their intentions. That’s not a business practice that generally gets repeat business from us. I also believe that it did this subject a grave disservice. Sadly, TLC is now enjoying the attention from this controversy.

I then checked the Florida Family Association website to see how this was portrayed. Besides the regrettable hatred, I also noticed that we weren’t listed. The email was a template, so people who sent thousands of emails seemed to be unaware they were sending it to us. The amount of vitriol in the emails was saddening, but I didn’t exactly feel pressured (not to mention we wouldn’t bend to such pressure). Many of the emails I’ve received expressing disappointment in our decision have been much more civil, and I applaud you for that.

Lastly, I watched the first two episodes. Mostly, I just thought the show sucked.

Based on our dealings with TLC and the simple assessment of the show, I decided we should put our money elsewhere. Apologies again.

– Robert Birge, KAYAK Chief Marketing Officer