Should brands be capitalizing on the month of Ramadan?
Mouna Kalla-Sacranie, senior strategist, Blue State, believes that brands are wrong to think Ramadan’s just another window to drive consumerism. She says it is not about mindless consumption, but mindful abstention. Brands that seek to capitalize better be careful.
Saturday April 2 marks the start of Ramadan, the holy month where hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world will be fasting from dawn till dusk. This year (like every year), myself and thousands of other Muslims living in the west will encounter shock and awe on the faces of our colleagues as we remind them that fasting means we can’t consume anything... “not even water(?!)”
While public awareness of this month has undoubtedly grown over the last decade, aside from the obvious associations around abstaining from food and drink, I would argue that there is still a lack of understanding – particularly from brands – as to what the practice of Ramadan is actually about.
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Every year in the run-up to the holy month, numerous reports and articles are published quantifying the astonishing value of the ‘Global Muslim Economy.’ Across the marketing sphere – and even in the charity sector – conversations around the ‘Muslim pound’ have grown increasingly prominent (and, at times, predatory), with Ramadan being positioned as a key moment and opportunity space for brands that wish to ‘lean in’ to Muslim audiences.
While the intention of these articles is to rightfully assert that Muslims are serious and valuable consumers who deserve to be seen and catered to, the use of Ramadan as a springboard for this conversation is something I take issue with.
The month of Ramadan is not about mindless consumption, but mindful abstention. Brands that seek to capitalize on the month, by pushing products and content that encourage audiences to buy more, watch more and consume indiscriminately, do so without taking the time to consider the values that underpin the practices of the month.
In this vein, the act of abstaining from food and drink is really just the tip of the iceberg. Ramadan is about self-evaluation and introspection – a time when Muslims are encouraged to acknowledge and unlearn their unhealthy habits; practicing restraint, taking stock of their lives and refining their thoughts and their actions.
Communality and shared community are also key themes that characterize the importance of Ramadan. For many, this goes beyond simply breaking fast with family and friends – it also extends to the practice of praying in congregation, sharing with one’s neighbors and feeling spiritually connected to the global Muslim community (Ummah). What makes Ramadan so special is the feeling of shared experience, and the knowledge that millions of other people are going through it with you.
Where Ramadan seeks to ground Muslims in a space of contentment and gratitude, so much of Ramadan marketing runs counter to this – pushing people in the direction and pursuit of more, better and newer ‘things.’
Building authentic relationships with Muslim consumers in Ramadan is less about the promotion of ‘stuff,’ and more about showing these audiences that they are seen, and that the nuances of their beliefs are understood and valued. Brands who wish to engage Muslim audiences in earnest will do well to remember some of the values and attributes mentioned above to ensure that their campaigns don’t feel opportunistic, tokenistic or extractive.
Beyond this, what is worth emphasizing, without being facetious, is that Muslims exist – and consume – throughout the year, not just in Ramadan. And that it is more than possible for brands to speak to Muslim audiences and cater to their needs and preferences without enforcing the commercialization of this holy month.
In reality, true community-building and loyalty are fostered through thoughtful long-term strategies, not through isolated moment-driven campaigns. If brands put in the time and effort to foster this loyalty throughout the year, they may find themselves front of mind for Muslims during Ramadan without even having to try.
Mouna Kalla-Sacranie is senior strategist at Blue State.