Why brands should rethink Ramadan

From gaming, fitness, home cooking and mental health, greater understanding of Muslim audiences can give brands huge opportunities to connect.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director


For marketers reflecting on Ramadan 2021 the greatest learnings may come from the brands who sat on the side-line and missed the opportunity to meaningfully connect with Muslim consumers.

What is holding these brands back and the myriad of opportunities that Ramadan presents for marketers were top of the agenda at last week’s Rethinking Ramadan event. Mobbie Nazir, Chief Strategy Officer of We Are Social and Akanksha Goel, MD of Socialize, talked about the opportunities for brands and the conversations on this subject taking place online at the moment, which brands can learn from.

Together they covered three key areas, food, fitness and social connections, with their insights drawn from the listening they’ve been doing online, examples of recent campaigns aimed at Muslims during Ramadan, and wider research into consumer behaviours during the month.

Nazir kicked off the event with a brief explanation of the role of Ramadan and what Muslims do during this holy month, highlighting the fact that it is not just about fasting but is also a time for introspection and thinking about what’s important in life.

Even with COVID impacting how people observe and celebrate at this time, “there are opportunities for brands to get involved, this is a really massive space,” Nazir said. She highlighted stats from the UK showing the Muslim community spends £20.5bn a year, and there’s no other time in the year for the Muslim community with a higher purchasing drive than the month of Ramadan.

This means that the opportunities for brands wanting to commit are huge. Nazir gave the example of Vimto, and the fact that the brand is now so closely associated with Ramadan that there are stores who ration supplies in the run-up.

We Are Social has undertaken social listening to find out what’s being said about Ramadan at the moment. Looking at how conversations play in three key markets, UK, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, Nazir said: “What we’ve found is that there are many similarities in behaviours and rituals across markets, particularly when it comes to how people are connecting.”

We’ve found very few brands tapping into this space and it’s a real opportunity for brands to do something that stands out.

Mobbie Nazir

The sustainability opportunity

Goel picked up the conversation, talking about food and iftar. While spending on food goes up by 50% during Ramadan there is a rise in food waste, making it the perfect opportunity to tackle this issue, Goel argued.

Which is why Socialize has created a campaign doing just this for its client General Mills, owner of the Mexican food brand Old El Paso. Goel admits that Old El Paso doesn’t have a natural role at the iftar table. “But what we’ve done is make the brand part of the conversation by showcasing how Old El Paso tortilla wraps can easily transform leftovers from one day into a new meal,” she said.

The Wrap It Up campaign is built around an app which lets people input the food they’ve got left over from iftar and gives them a recipe to use it up in return. If people share these recipes on social channels, the brand makes a donation to a local food bank, tying in with the charitable aspect of Ramadan.

The home cooking opportunity

Another opportunity cited by Goel is driven by COVID-19, which has seen many more people cooking meals at home. In Saudi Arabia, for example, 85.6% of Muslims are eating home-cooked meals every day compared to only 35.6% before the pandemic. Goel cited the example of Morrisons, the UK supermarket chain, introducing a Ramadan food essentials box last year which included staples and snacks to make it easier to break fast. “It’s an interesting way to tap into that changing consumer behaviour in a way that’s relevant to the times,” she said.

The fitness opportunity

Fitness, possibly against expectation, presents another opportunity. While traditionally Ramadan is a time where there are good reasons to focus less on exercise and more on spiritual issues, Nazir said their research shows a shift in attitude. More people are exploring the idea that it is a time to excel in every way as espoused by trainers like Rehan Jalali, and adopting the thought that discipline doesn’t only include food but could also extend to exercise.

This creates a space for brands to enter the conversation in ways such as giving people tips on the best time to train, and the most suitable types of exercise when you’re fasting, Nazir explained. “Brands could also offer advice on not overeating and avoiding the dreaded IBS, Iftar Binge Syndrome for those who don’t know, where you eat all the food and fall asleep for the rest of the day,” she said.

But apart from a few examples, like Saudi Sports For All Federation’s Step Together event and fitness coach Nazia Khatun moving her live workout streams to midnight in the UK, Nazir thinks it’s an undervalued realm. “We’ve found very few brands tapping into this space and it’s a real opportunity for brands to do something that stands out,” she explained.

Empathy and compassion are a key part of Ramadan but they should also be a part of brand communications.

Akanksha Goel

Connecting through families

Goel pointed to family connections as another key undervalued opportunity for brands to speak to Muslim audiences during Ramadan. She believes that while COVID has shifted the way families get together, it hasn’t put a stop to it. “You can quarantine people, but not the spirit of Ramadan,” she said.

It’s this truth that has inspired Socialize’s new ‘World’s Longest Iftar Table’ campaign for the Saudi Arabian fmcg brand Switz, whose products include samosa patti, sheets of dough to make samosas. “There’s a tradition to share pictures of the iftar table,”Akanksha explains. “But if you can’t show it off to your family and friends, you can share it in an app we’ve created and we’ll stitch them all together to show on the Switz Instagram channel.”

She also pointed to  McDonald’s iftar hourglass timer in Saudi Arabia, which counts down the minutes until fast can be broken, as another interesting way a brand is tapping into Ramadan. Looking ahead, she highlighted the growing influence and opportunity presented by gaming, not traditionally an area where Ramadan has a big presence. Yet gaming is beginning to have a role in connecting people as they break their fasts.

“An example is in Animal Crossing where the video game developer Rami Ismail created an iftar spot, replicating an experience that he wasn’t able to enjoy in real life,” Goel added.

The missing mental health crisis

Yet while brands are beginning to capitalise on these emerging trends, Goel pointed to one key area where brands have an opportunity to break the silence: mental health. Highlighting the disconnect between the exaggerated happiness portrayed in Ramadan-themed marketing and the loneliness many people are experiencing due to COVID, she explained: “Empathy and compassion are a key part of Ramadan but they should also be a part of brand communications.”

This is a particular issue in 2021 because in the Middle East, Mental Health Awareness week falls straight after Ramadan. “Perhaps this is an opportunity for brands to help raise awareness,” she added.

Overcoming the fear

With the event highlighting the clear opportunities for brands, the question becomes, what is holding them back when it comes to embracing the marketing potential of Ramadan? According to Nazir this is likely down to brands being nervous. However, she added that the conversations We Are Social is seeing online suggests they shouldn’t be.

Nazir highlighted the fact that marketing to the Muslim community shouldn’t begin and end with major religious events. As the event underlined, the purchasing power of the Muslim community is too important to ignore.

You can watch the full Rethinking Ramadan event here and read more about the findings which inspired it on the We Are Social blog.