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How should brands prepare for Ramadan in the year of Covid-19?

By Asad Dhunna

April 21, 2020 | 6 min read

Two words focus the thoughts of Muslims at this time of year: fast and reflection. Brands should observe both to get ahead right now.

Open Iftar

Open Iftar is sending Muslims a kit of recipes, games and decorations

A holy month of fasting is set to start this week as the lunar calendar lands on ‘Ramadan 1, 1441’. Muslims around the world are gearing up for 30 days of no food or drink (no, not even water) during daylight hours.

We’re about to witness the behaviour and consumption patterns of 1.8 billion people worldwide transform even more than they have already during the pandemic.

Some 2.5 million of them will be in the UK, under lockdown for the first time in history and trying hard to make the holy month more homely.

“Mosques and Muslim organisations across the UK are working to ensure a remote Ramadan can still be spiritually uplifting,” according to Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain.

The adaptation of Mosques and Muslim organisations is unsurprising. But spare a thought for marketers who are currently contending with their brand purpose being put to the test like never before. Do they have the smarts to be Ramadan-ready?

Let’s address the elephant in the room early: reaching Muslims is a no-brainer right now. Early data shows that people from BAME backgrounds are being disproportionately affected by Covid-19. From frontline workers to cornershop owners, you’d be hard pressed to find a Muslim that wouldn’t welcome positive action from business right now.

In fact, The Unmistakables’ Stereotypes Study showed that 56% of Muslims wished brands better targeted them. It’s an open goal if you can move fast.

So, let’s look at how – rather than if – brands should be preparing for Ramadan.

Work from the inside out

Resist the urge to recycle last year’s Ramadan campaign. What worked in 2019 simply isn’t going to work during Covid-19.

You just need some new insights to get there.

Understanding Muslims is easy - after you’ve read the studies, look inside your own organisation. The lockdown has meant a real focus on putting people and colleagues first. So, if you haven’t spoken to ‘Ahmed from accounts’, now is the time – not just to get that PO signed off, but to find out how he’s approaching the most challenging Ramadan yet.

His experiences will give you a barometer for how to better engage this year – and they just might appreciate being asked.

What they’re definitely going to tell you is that they will find it harder to start with. I know I am.

In lockdown, food provides a good break during otherwise repetitive days. And finding the right time to exercise around fasting is going to be a case of trial and error – no more Joe Wicks [morning YouTube workouts] for us.

There could be things specific to your organisation that are waiting to be discovered and addressed.

Become a member of the community

Undoubtedly the hardest aspect for Muslims will be the lack of interaction with the wider community. There’ll be no evening prayers at mosques and no communal sunrise (suhoor) or sunset (iftar) meals.

A number of brands are coming together to address this. Companies such as Dishoom, Darjeeling Express, Hellman’s, the British Library and the FA have partnered with the Open Iftar project – a nonprofit organisation founded in 2013 with a mission of bringing communities together to better understand each other.

This year it has launched ‘#MyOpenIftar‘, an opportunity for millions of people to celebrate and share the Ramadan spirit from home. ‘#MyOpenIftar’ will host the world’s largest virtual Iftar on the first day of Ramadan and is sending out packs containing recipes, games and decorations for free.

Get Muslims talking

Brands can also speak to the Muslim community by simply creating content that resonates. Whether it’s tapping into Muslim meme culture (we’ve heard from Nafisa Bakkar at Amaliah that watermelons get good engagement) or providing iftar recipes, creating content that gets Muslims talking is easy.

A video of the empty streets of London might not feel like a novelty now, but that’s what we commissioned British-Somali poet Mohamed Mohamed to create on Christmas Day for the Museum of London.

His enchanting poetry was set over him cycling through an uncharacteristically empty city on his way to morning prayer and the video was put out across the museum’s social media channels before Gavin and Stacey even aired.

When we launched the campaign, we saw how powerful Muslim Twitter was in sharing the content.

It wasn’t just because the empty streets were a rare sight at the time. It was because Muslims are accustomed to only being addressed in the media through negative stereotypes. For some, this was the first time they had ever seen themselves carefully reflected in a positive campaign.

This Ramadan you’ve got to adapt fast – as Covid-19 is causing us all to do – and reflect on the insights you can gather almost instantly. Get it right and a feast of new and loyal customers awaits you.

Ramadan Mubarak.


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