Ramadan: A month of fasting, a marketing feast

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The holiest month on the Muslim calendar also marks a buying boom. How can brands market in Muslim countries without forgetting the spirit of the season?

Around the world, Ramadan marks a month of austerity for observant Muslims. Abstaining from food or water from sunrise to sunset, families gather at night to break their fast — and many people stay awake until the early morning, relaxing and shopping both at brick-and-mortar outlets and online.

Indeed, many Muslim countries experience a dramatic increase in online shopping during Ramadan, a phenomenon known as the "Ramadan Rush," as well as a boost in charitable donations.

Many companies engaged in Muslim countries are ready for Ramadan, which runs from June 17 to July 17 this year and culminates with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr. According to Jorden Boshers, founder and chief digital strategist of Istizada, a Jordanian marketing consultancy, there’s a significant increase in advertising spend during Ramadan, including brand marketing.

"The whole month of Ramadan is really a time to focus on charity and giving," Boshers said. "A lot of advertising in the region will focus on giving to NGOs."

Foreign brands need to be conscious of the opportunities Ramadan represents, Boshers said. "Oftentimes, agencies start with great campaigns for Ramadan but have a hard time getting them off the ground" because their clients don’t recognize its importance as a shopping holiday.

At the same time, it’s important for brands — especially those from outside the culture — to remember the religious significance of the holiday even as they find ways to create an entertaining campaign. "It’s important to honor the culture and try to make a connection" Boshers said. "Try not to make it too edgy."

Here's a sampling of Ramadan 2015 campaigns.

Pepsi "Pepsi & Chipsy Ramadan," Egypt

For the third year in a row, the soda-maker brings back to life a dozen Egyptian movie stars from decades past. The ad juxtaposes black-and-white films with fresh scenes of the festivities that arise when the sun sets.

Coca-Cola, Egypt

Rather than broadcast ads, Coca-Cola decided to release its Ramadan ads online and donate the money earmarked for media buys to charity. The series of videos celebrates the human spirit and generosity. In the above video, an amputee proves capable of remarkable feats. Coca-Cola and Pepsi compete each year to celebrate the spirit of Ramadan in their ads.

Vodafone, "Vodafone Ramadan to You," J. Walter Thompson Cairo, Egypt

Vodafone Egypt’s Ramadan commercial is a star-studded spot featuring a host of the country's celebrities singing into their mobile phones with varying degrees of aural distinction. The work of JWT Cairo, the commercial is directed by Omar Hilal and production company ASAP. The commercial brings real-life celebrity families together on the screen for the first time — a reminder that your power comes from your family. Celebrities include Hussien Fahmy and his brother Mostafa Fahmy, and Dalal Abdulaziz and her daughter Emmy Ghanem.

Kent "Religious Festivals Mean Remembrance" by Guzel Sanatlar, Turkey

The candy company's ad celebrates memories of the holiday by showing a couple as they age from their wedding to inviting over their grandkids. A continual theme is the father's glasses, which tell the narrative as time (and fashion) change.

Astro "Tiada Noktah Untuk Kemaafan," Malaysia

This tearjerking ad titled ‘Tiada Noktah Untuk Kemaafan’ ("Forgiveness Knows No Bounds") for satellite network Astro shows the story of a man meeting his father for the first time in six years. The man was a drug addict who suffered brain damage as a result of his substance abuse. The story of forgiveness departs from previous Astro spots, which focused on celebrities.

Angel Drones by Al Rifai, Lebanon

In the spirit of giving, Muslims celebrate Ramadan by helping the poor and elderly. Some of those people are hard to reach, and food maker Al Rifai is accomplishing the task using drones. Quadcopters carrying items such as food and clothing were deployed to reach those who need these items most. A companion website at angeldrones.alrifai.com documents the stories of those touched by the gifts.

Coca-Cola "Remove Labels This Ramadan" by FP7/DXB and Memac Ogilvy, Saudi Arabia

Coca-Cola has removed its logo from cans to promote a world without prejudices. The soda maker also released a film here in which people sit around a dinner table in the dark, learning a lesson about stereotypes when the lights are switched on.

Danone Aqua's ad for hydration by Y&R Group Indonesia and VML Qais Jakarta, Indonesia

Based on the insight that Muslims tend to drink copious amounts of water in the morning before fasting during the holy month, but not enough during the night and at the end of day, Danone and Y&R created a campaign to educate consumers about staying properly hydrated during Ramadan. The agency developed Aqua’s "2-4-2" 2015 campaign, an easy and memorable idea built around the advice to drink two glasses of water upon breaking the fast at sunset, four glasses during the night and four glasses before recommencing the fast at sunrise.

Cadbury "Cadbury Celebrations" by Contract Advertising, India

The film opens in a living room of revelers celebrating the occasion. One of the men offers sweets out of a pack of Cadbury Celebrations Rich Dry Fruit Collection to another. In keeping with the Urdu-Hindi "Pehle aap" (You first) tradition, the parcel keeps getting passed around. Until an elderly man arrives on the scene and plays on "Pehle aap" with "Pehle baap," which means "Father first!"

Adam Olson, Umaire Effendi (Campaign India), Burçin Tarhan (Campaign Turkey), Matthew Miller (Campaign Asia-Pacific) and Iain Akerman (Campaign Middle East) contributed to this report.


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