It's less than six weeks to Ramadan, and I've already started my preparations for the Muslim month of fasting and I'm not the only one. Over the coming days, Britain's 4 million Muslims will be preparing themselves for a transformation in every aspect of their lives: spiritual, physical and emotional. It's a transformation that radically changes the fabric of Muslim community life for thirty days. At the end is the epic celebration of Eid ul Fitr, a time of family get togethers, feasting, gifting and festivity. This year Ramadan begins in mid May, and Eid is a month later in mid June.
You might have learnt about Ramadan from RE text-books at school, the odd cobbled together article in the newspaper or from a colleague like me. I’ve seen people hide their shock when I tell them that I won’t be eating or drinking during the day for a whole month. I can see in their minds images of a vast population of dehydrated malnourished people. I’ve experienced this so many times that what started out in my mind as something I want to explain earnestly, I now leave a few moments to relish the comic punchline – the reassurance that the fast is only dawn till dusk every day. And then watching the realisation that’s still nearly 20 hours during the British summer and I must admit I enjoy watching eyes pop out of people’s heads a second time.
I tell you all this because the experience of Ramadan standing in the shoes of a Muslim is quite different to the way brands, businesses and organisations in the UK currently engage with Ramadan – if they do at all.
We’re still in the early days of figuring out that Ramadan is hugely important in the UK, that Muslims in Britain do more than eat dates and chapattis during the holy month and that Ramadan is not necessarily the same photoshopped idyll of family perfection that plagued our portrayals of Christmas in 1972.
At its heart, Ramadan is a spiritual and community affair, and the personal transformation that each individual undergoes is at its core. At Ogilvy Noor we are increasingly witnessing that all of this means practical and behavioural changes, and businesses, brands and organisations need to be on hand to support, enhance and celebrate those experiences. Ramadan is a serious business, the insights and trends are nuanced, and Muslim audiences want us to talk to them with a level of sophistication and wit.
The brand opportunity
One of the biggest unknowns about Ramadan is this: in the UK, Ramadan follows Christmas and Easter as the third-biggest season for businesses. Muslims are spending an estimated £100m of additional revenue during the Ramadan season. On top of this, they are donating a further £100m to charitable causes.
UK supermarkets are already offering line ups for their Muslim customers, allowing them to stock up in advance, providing Ramadan staples and the kind of food, drinks and treats that make this month such a joy for Muslims. While Muslims in Britain appreciate this –– they are seeking better, more sophisticated engagement in their food aisles as well as on the high street and online more generally.
A whole range of habits change, from what people wear, to what they buy, to how they manage their health, to their worries for their children, to who they spend time with. As marketers, our first response is to be fascinated by this epic transformation. And then we should immediately think of our relationship and engagement with this audience. A huge "Ramadan Mubarak" sign in store is a start, but there’s so much more we can do.
Tastes and concerns are changing, with a move towards more variety in food and beverages that Muslim consumers are seeking out. This is coupled with a rising importance towards health and wellness which is being manifested in more concern over fitness regimes, healthy nutrition and a focus on eliminating bad health habits such as smoking. With fasts being long during the hot summer days, Muslims who are fasting are increasingly mindful of eating and drinking well to ensure they stay energetic and avoid health problems.
Diversity is one of the buzzwords for the industry, and the growth of the Ramadan experience in the UK demonstrates that this is not a niche audience. It is growing year on year, and Muslim consumers are growing increasingly sophisticated.
In fact, the surprise is that brands are not doing more to engage with Muslims during Ramadan and Eid. Not only are there specific incremental benefits during this season, it is also an excellent time to establish and strengthen their relationships with one of Britain’s youngest, most diverse and increasingly affluent segments. Muslims are inviting everyone in to Ramadan. Make sure your brand is at the forefront.
Shelina Jonmohamed is vice-president of Ogilvy Noor