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Ramadan is a missed opportunity for most brands – let’s change that

With so few brand communications in the UK catering to Ramadan, Omar El-Gammal, a planning director at Wunderman Thompson, offers up some pointers on how to connect with audiences during this important time in the Islamic calendar.

With lockdowns not yet behind us, the family time I yearn for the most is breakfast together at 3am.

My mother would always wake me up, gently at first, followed by my father with a fair warning that if I missed out on the eggs, I’d have no one to blame but myself. I’d track the scent of home-cooking to find my way, sleepy-eyed but hungry, to my seat at the kitchen table.

Do you know many families that get together for a big breakfast at 3am? You may think not, but chances are you know more than you realize.

That’s because Islam is the second largest religion in the UK and getting up for Suhoor – a pre-dawn breakfast during the month of Ramadan – is a typical scene for many Muslim families.

Many people do know, however, that Ramadan – which starts on Tuesday (April 13) – is a holy month that involves a daily fast from food and drink (even water) from dawn to sunset. Most don’t realize, however, that the British Muslim community spends a whopping £20.5bn a year in the UK. This most important month in the Muslim calendar alone involves £200m of spending power.

What’s more, despite the fact that 75% of Muslims would love brands to cater to them during the fasting period, it remains a lost opportunity. As a fasting Muslim working in the ad industry, I’d like to help change that.

Moving beyond tokenism

Many creatives and marketers I’ve spoken with have confessed that they want to create campaigns for the Muslim community but don’t know how to approach it without getting out of their depth into religion or the superficial tokenism of ‘Let’s show a hijab in the ad’.

You might be surprised, too, to discover that Ramadan traditions go far beyond food and prayer. For a single month every year, the way a Muslim experiences the world changes.

For many of us, it’s a time to reset and reconnect with what we love and to be good to ourselves and to those around us. It isn’t a month that is simply endured, it’s a month many enjoy.

Here are a few different ways your Muslim colleagues and peers will be experiencing the month, coupled with suggestions for brands to connect with the whole community.

Remember that empathy lies at the core

The main reason behind fasting during Ramadan comes down to a core experience – empathizing with the hungry and poor.

For 30 days a year, those involved receive a humble reminder that being able to have three meals a day is, in fact, a privilege that some can’t count on. As such, many Muslims go out of their way every year to contribute to community support. It’s common to cook Iftar – the meal at sunset for breaking fast – for your family and your neighbors, and to also distribute to those less fortunate.

Hand-in-hand with this empathy comes generosity. Every year, Muslims are expected to give 2.5% of their untouched wealth to charity (zakat) and Ramadan is one of the most giving months of the year.

In 2020, British Muslims gave £150m of donations to charity during Ramadan alone. That equates to £38 a second to everything from schools to the NHS.

Resolutions aren’t just for January

For many Muslims, Ramadan also serves as a time of deep personal reflection. It is a time to reassess what is important and what you’re spending time and effort on. You reconsider how you’re treating the people you value, and yourself.

As a result, it’s a time when many will set new resolutions. For instance, a quick Google search will show that ‘quitting smoking’ peaks during Ramadan among Muslim audiences. After all, since you also fast from smoking, you might as well go all the way.

Athletes and gym-goers completely reshape the way they look at nutrition and training during the month, too. And so Muslim influencers were thrilled last year when Nike was one of the first brands to create a training program for Muslim athletes, showing how to keep fit and be more mindful during the month.

I’m genuinely shocked at how hard it is to find any brands that are willing to play a role in helping Muslims keep up their lifestyle choices or make positive changes during Ramadan.

It’s a wide-open space for brands to play and research shows that the lifestyle changes made during this month last well beyond the period of fasting.

A time of community and connection

One of the most important aspects of Ramadan is the sense of community and connection. It’s a time to reconnect with people you may not have made time for throughout the year. You go to each other’s houses for Iftar and bring gifts to share.

In most Muslim countries, chocolate and desert brands make their annual targets in this month alone. In the same way that Quality Street and FerreroRocher play a role in gifting during Christmas and Easter, they play a role in Muslim households during Ramadan and Eid too.

At a time when many Muslims aren’t able to connect in person with their loved ones and friends, the opportunity for brands to step in and to help create connections between people are completely untouched and hold the key to deep emotional connection.

As the poet – and my friend – NamalSiddiqui once wrote about the month: ”It arrives like a mountain, a path of hardships; leaves like water, flowing from a spring. Like a memorable vacation, something in you always changes.”

My message to marketing chiefs? You may not have planned anything for this year’s Ramadan fasting, but do take the opportunity to reach out to your Muslim colleagues and peers and wish them a Ramadan Kareem.

It’s different for every Muslim, so take the chance to understand the many sides of it and to spot the opportunities to connect in a year so hungry for connection.