How brands can tap the global nature of Ramadan in these COVID times

Industry experts say this Ramadan, brands need to adapt fast as the situation presents an opportunity for them to play a real role here

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: May 1, 2020 8:58 AM

The month of Ramadan is not just about spirituality, togetherness and reflection, but also is an opportunity for brands to put out some lively advertising and build cultural relevance. With more than 1.6 billion Muslims celebrating Ramadan over 33 countries, the season offers exciting opportunities for advertisers.

However, with the extension of the ongoing lockdown and the adherence to physical distancing due to the Coronavirus pandemic, for the very first time ever, people will be compelled to observe this differently. COVID-19 has forced brands and marketers to think on their feet to stay relevant. In such a scenario, when Coronavirus and Ramadan collide, how can brands play in?

To be sure, this year brands will have to swiftly navigate the strategic and production challenges of the pandemic and rethink the context in which their campaigns will play out. While most brands until now have not fully tapped the global nature of Ramadan, industry experts indicate that this could be the perfect time to do so.

Repurposing the narrative

While family, community and togetherness form a cornerstone of Ramadan communications, how can brands and agencies foster that feeling when their audience is isolated at home and the usual imagery of family gatherings doesn’t quite connect with the reality they’re living?

Ajay Gahlaut, MD & CCO, Publicis India, feels brands need to be responsible in their communication, more than anything else. Gahlaut hints that social distancing and responsible ways to celebrate the festival are themes that can be explored. “Brands need to educate people by saying that while you can observe your faith, do it in a responsible way. Consumers will also recognise because these are fickle times and they require a certain level of maturity when brands are communicating with them,” he asserted.

Of course, cultural sensitivity and responsibility is of paramount importance as it’s easy to get advertising messages wrong. Pallavi Chakravarti, Executive Creative Director, Taproot Dentsu, advises that considering that the month leading up to Eid, is a time of reflection, sacrifice, family gatherings and a time of charity, brands can choose to get behind acts of charity as now more than ever, because marginalised sections of the society have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

“In the same vein, if brands can help facilitate virtual togetherness or help deliver groceries that families need daily for iftar – these are the sort that will be appreciated and are much-needed, to my mind. Other than this, all that brands can and should do is wish people Eid Mubarak when the time comes and spread the message of hope, peace and joy. Same as every year,” Chakravarti suggested.

Meanwhile, Samit Sinha, Managing Partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting, shares three possible routes that brands can take here - virtual celebrations, tugging at nostalgia or taking the anticipation route. “The most obvious one is e-celebrating on Skype, Zoom, etc. This could be most relevant for telecom and computer brands and perhaps not so much for FMCG brands. The other options could be to use nostalgia as a theme, by depicting celebrating in a pre-Corona time. Nostalgia is a powerful tool to evoke emotion. This may be particularly effective for brands with a long heritage. The last route I can think of is around anticipation, where one fantasises about the next Ramadan, when things are expected to get back to normal. This could be used as a message of hope and optimism about the future by some brands,” Sinha said.

Acts over ads

A word of caution here is that brands shouldn’t be opportunistic and speak without backing their words with actions.

Debashish Ghosh, NCD, 22feet Tribal Worldwide, asserted that it’s imperative brands shift from a ‘me’ to a ‘we’ mindset now. “Brands should take it further from a consumer-first approach to a human-first one. Then, dial up your brand volume only if you have something new to say or meaningful to do. Else, the brand is not adding value but clutter to an overwhelming avalanche of information out there,” Ghosh advised.

Chakravarti, too, contended that at times like these brands should only speak if they are doing something actively to help the situation or if they are genuinely relevant to people’s lives and routines during this period. “Lip service helps absolutely no one, and I can’t think of too many consumers (myself included) who will sleep more soundly at night knowing that some brand of chewing gum or another brand of cement or yet another brand of designer outfits are standing firmly with them through this crisis. Coming to Ramadan therefore, the same principle applies,” she established.

Meanwhile, Ankita Chauhan, Group Head Strategy, Tonic Worldwide, argues that brands have a critical role to play as people are looking for support, motivation and distraction from negativity, which is the space brands need to explore. “We're living in difficult times with heightened anxieties, fear and uncertainty. With a 360-degree change in the way we live, every day, every occasion is seeing a different mood and treatment. The onset of the holy month of Ramadan can be used as a time for brands to create a brand connect by helping people cope with the change, distract from unpleasant and inspire or give ideas on enjoying the festivities while being safe. Honestly, the brands have a bigger role to play today than ever before,” she suggested.

Embrace the new normal

Furthermore, industry leaders point out that the situation presents an opportunity for brands to play a real role here which they can capture by leveraging the digital medium and capitalising raw, authentic content shot indoors.

Ghosh indicates that the most active category during a festive season - retail brands - will need to transform quickly in this rapidly changing landscape. “They could pivot to the strategy used by successful DTC (direct-to-consumers) brands like owning the infrastructure (automation, multi-tier distribution) followed by owning the experience (offer expertise at every stage of consumer-product journey, stores as a service) and owning the relationship (one-to-one, making them a stakeholder in research). Some of these things can happen quickly and some will take time and get implemented post-lockdown,” he says.

Moreover, he suggested small and mid-sized retailers can use ‘community platforms’ like Facebook and WhatsApp to stay connected with consumers for business. “Brands can leverage digital platforms for communication and storytelling along with the ‘new’ social platforms like Zoom and Houseparty. As an example, while it's already common for big brands, a branded bundle of festive-themed beautiful backgrounds for video call platforms might get used and shared a lot especially in the absence of alternatives,” he added.

According to the recent Unmistakables’ Stereotypes Study, over 56% of Muslims wished brands better targeted them.

Deepak Singh, former CCO, The Social Street, opines that the lockdown situation has led to a growth in digital and interesting content shot indoors, something that is inexpensive and can give a good room for even smaller and medium brands to reach out to the Muslim community. “Interesting video content shot indoors can still do the same trick and create magic like a nicely shot TVC. In fact, the actual space and candidness makes it more realistic. In fact, it will connect well with everyone. And it is much cheaper, so more brands can do interesting content. This is a very interesting time for all the brands to come up with innovative digital ideas as digital was going to overpower other mediums, anyway. Now with Covid-19, everyone is forced to get into the digital space and that is what most of the brands are focussing on,” he remarked.

Among the few things that are important here, Singh says, is that the current data shows most people are downloading online shopping apps and getting stuff online which is a dramatic change in consumer behaviour and is happening really fast. “With a shortage of food supply across the country, people are not hesitating to try other brands which are easily available in the market, so brand loyalty has also been hit hard, which opens doors for newer brands to enter,” he added.

Industry leaders establish that this Ramadan, brands got to adapt fast just like Covid-19.

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