Ramadan and the new generation of Muslim consumers

Thinkstock/iStock
Thinkstock/iStock

WhatsApp facilitating the Quran readership is just one example of how technology is shaping the holy month.

In recent years, Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, has gained increased importance for marketers as the Muslim population around the world rapidly expands — and particularly for a new generation of Muslim youth.

Muslims represent the second largest population worldwide, driving a significant share of consumer spending across sectors. While marketers in the Middle East and Africa have maintained a focus on Ramadan and its unique role, its cultural significance continues to lag in the west.

The majority of Muslims indicate that their faith and traditions impact their purchase decisions. But, the Muslim demographic is enormously diverse, making it hard to define a single and simple way to reach this audience. The month of Ramadan is the one touchpoint shared across the group, presenting a unique opportunity to establish meaningful connections with Muslim communities.

Our team of Y&R explorers immersed themselves in a month-long journey to better understand the mindset of modern Muslim consumers across the UAE, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Palestine, Algeria, Libya, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Australia, France, the U.K. and U.S.

Ramadan is marked by religious significance, spiritual intensity and unique rituals affecting everything from eating and sleeping to media consumption. Today, Ramadan customs and rituals are undergoing a transformation, driven by digital natives who are shaping their own cultures and enjoying freedom to observe the holy month on their own terms. Young people are modernizing Ramadan rituals to give them a more personal meaning and suit their busy, connected lifestyles. They are discovering that sometimes keeping tradition means reinventing tradition.

Rather than focusing on a short-term sales strategy during this month, marketers should invest in long-term brand engagement strategies for both Muslim and non-Muslim consumers, built on shared values and consideration for the cultural importance of Ramadan.

Technology -- an enabler of good practices
Historically, the distractions of technology have been deemed incompatible with the spirit of Ramadan. But for a younger generation of Muslims, technology plays an instrumental role in bringing them closer to values, traditions and one another during the holy month.

Yasmin, a 25-year-old Muslim from Egypt, shared her story about how reading the Quran became a daily practice with the help of WhatsApp group, Ekra2, where pages would be shared for members to read each day. Yasmin explained: "I never thought that WhatsApp would reconnect me with my faith."

A young Pakistani tradesman maintained that "Ramadan apps are an absolute necessity." When travelling for business, he relies on them for prayer timings, Quran readings, observing the right direction when praying, and connecting with family which is very important.

As young Muslims use technology during Ramadan to inspire good practices, marketers can tap its power to enhance the festive spirit, facilitate sharing, good deeds and the formation of communities.

A quest for work-family-Ramadan balance
Muslim women are frequently the keepers of family traditions. During Ramadan, this role expands even further as they rise earlier, cook more and manage a range of social obligations.

As more women join the workforce and take on leadership positions, balancing these obligations while retaining time for self-reflection is a significant challenge. And the new generation of working women are feeling the pressure to live up to standards set by their older female relatives. Brands can help alleviate these pressures by offering practical solutions that minimize stress and create time for self-reflection.

Many women also see Ramadan as a time for personal growth and self-discovery. For those who don’t know how to cook, Ramadan becomes the perfect time to learn. "This Ramadan I want to know more. My aunt is cooking three dishes a day… I can at least learn to make one," shared a young professional from UAE. Brands can help women unleash their creativity, add to their skills and spend quality time with family. Today, a lot of food brands make women’s task easier by sharing special Ramadan recipes, giving cooking tips and launching new products, but there is certainly an opportunity to go beyond that.

Ramadan through a youth culture lens
Allowing Ramadan rituals to evolve for contemporary society can preserve tradition in many ways. One busy young Muslim family chose to replace a lavish traditional meal with a BBQ, focusing on sharing a meal with family and friends rather than immaculate table settings. A millennial uncle gives Amazon gift cards instead of cash.

Younger generations have undoubtedly made Ramadan more Instagrammable, with fashion and social media fueling ideas and interactions: dressing up in stylish outfits and high-end abayas, booking fancy hotel gatherings, and publicizing charitable activities. Ramadan symbolism and rituals have found a place in pop culture that brings together individual style and long held traditions.

With youth reshaping their approaches to Ramadan, marketers should explore how to help young families create their own traditions, and how their brands can offer innovative ways to engage with the occasion, make it more festive and encourage participation in charitable causes on a larger scale.

Ramadan presents a unique occasion for brands to connect with the Muslim communities in a way that is authentic and drives shared values. For non-Muslim markets, it can also be the right time to break barriers of misunderstanding. The opportunities are endless, and the countdown to Ramadan 2018 has started. What role will your brand play?

Olga Kudryashova is the planning director at Y&R for Middle East and North Africa.

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