Manufacturing Muslim Desire

There’s a classic snippet in the papers today. Muslims in the US and the UK apparently represent a recalcitrant aporia in the advertising and marketing world:

Salzman reveals that JWT is also about to embark upon the first ever study of the Muslim market in the US and the UK, under her supervision. “This is the biggest single issue we face as marketers,” she says. “3.5% of Americans are Muslims. They are young and we don’t understand them at all. Part of the American Dream was becoming like your neighbour, but Muslims have a code of law which they respect which impacts every dimension of their world including consumerism and media consumption. ”

But doesn’t that make them an unlikely market? Tellingly she replies: “They are not anti-consumerist. There are things they want. We know they value home and family. But we have not figured out yet how to invent desire [among the Muslim community].” She leans forward. “This is the first thing I’ve been really excited about since the day I installed an AOL disk back in 1992. [1] [my italics]

Allegedly British and American Muslims haven’t yet been assigned a place within niche-marketing. They’re characterised here as a frontier in the marketization of global cultures, which extends choice but only within the confined horizon of economic consumption. In other words, more is less: cultures become products and our relationship to culture becomes marketised. British and American Muslim viewing and shopping habits will be ascertained so that their inmost desires can “invented” to quote Salzman, i.e. to be sold back to them as “needs” — no doubt at a competitive price.

Anyone up for a bit of zuhd?


[1] Interview with Marian Salzman, Executive Vice President of the American advertising giant, J. Walter Thompson, ‘I don’t think newspapers are about to go away’, The Guardian, Media Supplement, 8 January 2007. Thanks to the BBRC for pointing out the story to me.


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