What's keeping brands from Ramadan?

Industry watchers talk about the factors that hinder brands from connecting with the consumers in the Holy Month

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: May 10, 2021 10:00 AM

The last few days of the Holy Month of Ramadan are upon us. Each year, we see some brands meekly dip a toe into the Ramadan pool, propping up clichéd ads with the customary crescents, minarets and a ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ slogan. While some brands do try to engage audiences, a majority of them fail to tap into this opportunity and only a handful of familiar brands like Surf Excel, Rooh Afza and Coca Cola try to engage the consumers. A marketing opportunity wasted? Industry watchers decode what holds brands back from doing so.

Consumption opportunity, cliches and more

Brand strategist Ambi M G Parameswaran notes brands celebrating Islamic festivals are not too common. Parameswaran observes that very few brands are identified as Muslim focussed, except probably for Rooh Afza. ”In the past, we used to see what I have called ‘Mera Bharat/Brand Mahaan’ ads which used to have the mandatory images of a Sikh, a Christian and a Muslim consumer enjoying the brand experience [Hamara Bajaj comes to mind]. Standalone ads in the past used to be largely Diwali focussed and the other occasion that was portrayed in advertising was the traditional Indian celebration of a wedding (more in my book Nawabs, Nudes, Noodles - India Through 50 Years of Advertising’). In the last two decades, brands have started using other festivals like Dhan Theras, Karva Chauth to stimulate consumption,” he remarks.

That said, Parameswaran notes that we have seen a few ads that have focused on Muslim consumers and Ramadan. “Big Bazaar created a very evocative ad featuring a Muslim gynaecologist a few years ago. Then there have been ads by Surf Exel and Brooke Bond that have shown Muslim consumers, with or without Ramadan festivities,” he says. Moreover, he adds that brands that see  Ramadan as a big buying/selling occasion have traditionally used local print advertising in specific geographies to target this buying occasion. “I suppose those brands will be now using a mix of digital, FM radio and print. Supermarket chains like Big Bazaar have done local promotions to stimulate buying,” Parameswaran notes.

Like every year, this year too, only a handful of brands like Tata Motors, Samaara Tea, Apis Honey, Surf Excel have created Ramdan-themed communication.

Anil Nair, CEO, VMLY&R feels that there lies a huge opportunity to leverage Ramadan as much as brands do for Diwali and other festivals. "Going beyond the myopic Ramadan for Muslims argument, I think it is an opportunity to walk the talk and strengthen their multiculturalism, pluralistic and inclusivity credentials. The world over one has seen an increased acknowledgement of the growing purchasing power of the Muslim community and products and services are being rolled out, spanning fashion to foods,” he remarks.

Nair notes that India which boasts of the second-largest Muslim population in the world can definitely do with interesting and forward-looking Ramadan ads from leading brands that appeal to the young forward-looking members of the community through the power of digital, social and personalisation.

What causes brands to hold back?

Despite the success of certain Ramadan-themed ads like that of Surf Excel, which has consistently managed to tug right at the heartstrings of consumers, why are several Indian brands hesitant to play a role here?

Dr Sandeep Goyal, Brand Expert and Chief Mentor, IIHB says: "What deters most brands is that there is a lot of media wastage."

He explains, “There have been some really nice ads done by Tata Trucks and various others for Ramadan. If more direct channels would reach predominantly Muslim audiences, opportunities like Ramadan would receive a major fillip,” he opines.

Meanwhile Auryndom Bose, Group Creative Director, Taproot Dentsu contends that when it comes to Ramadan, it is significant to note the nature of the religious event. Bose feels that the reason for not many brands capitalizing on it could have to do with the fact that it is not so much celebratory in nature as it is about restraint, contemplation and prayer.

“While I don’t believe there has been any less communication on Ramadan than say a Navratri (another religious event associated with a period of austere self-control and prayer), -lately Unilever’s Surf Excel, Hamdard and even Revital have brought up the event in their advertising - it is important to differentiate it from the emotions associated with both Eid and Diwali. The cultural and religious codes associated with it, therefore, hugely differ from the usual marketing objectives that spur on a buying behaviour typical to most Indian festivals,” he opines.

Furthermore, Bose states that it is probably best that brands choose to tread wisely when it comes to sombre events like Ramadan since whatever association a brand creates shouldn’t ever overstep the boundaries of sentiments associated with those religious events. “Brands should only approach events like Ramadan from the lens of human values that coincide with brand values. In these times of ‘cause-vertising’ when people look forward to more and more meaningful messages from brands and will cancel or subscribe to brands depending on their stand in society, - the authenticity of the message is that much more critical,” he asserts. He remarks that some emotions are best left pure without diluting their spirit with a marketing message.

Here’s hoping that more brands keep up with the changing face of Ramadan and manage to depict that in their ads while seizing the consumption opportunity just waiting to be tapped.

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