Ramadan marketing, anyone?

Focus Communications' Raza Mankani on the big opportunity around Canada's growing Muslim communities.

By Raza Mankani

Amidst the bustling downtown core of Toronto sits an unassuming building that comes to life every night just before sundown. It’s mid-June and for over three weeks now, the men and women passing through the doors of this downtown building have been fasting.

It’s Ramadan, the ninth and one of the holiest months in the Muslim calendar. The community is gathering at the downtown mosque for “iftar,” or breaking the fast. For many others, iftar is at home. Regardless, this is a time for family, friends and community to come together after a long day of fasting.

And in most Muslim homes in Canada, iftar is time for a somewhat elaborate dinner with the family. The month-long Ramadan is followed by one of the biggest Muslim festivals – Eid-al-Fitr, a day of thanksgiving and celebration with family and friends.

Ramadan may be culturally diverse across the world, yet there is one central theme everywhere: food.

Across South Asia and the Middle East, Ramadan and Eid account for millions of dollars of advertising and promotional spending. A 2014 Nielsen study, conducted in the United Arab Emirates, reported a 9% spike in overall food consumption during Ramadan. During the same period, grocery stores saw a 7% increase in overall sales volume. Advertising spend in Pakistan, for instance, is nearly 25% higher in Ramadan compared to rest of the year.

With over a million Muslim Canadians, a number that has doubled for the third-consecutive decade, the significance of these consumers is gaining ground. Much like elsewhere around the world, many Canadian Muslim households spend more on groceries, especially food and beverages, during Ramadan and Eid-al-Fitr every year.

Global brands like Pepsi, Coke, Cadbury, Nestlé and Lipton have run special Ramadan and Eid campaigns across South Asian and Middle Eastern markets with their seasonal sales climbing every year.

While Ramadan presents marketers with many opportunities for engaging Muslim consumers, it is important that companies and brands are conscious of the religious sensitivities as well cultural nuances that dictate how the ethnically diverse Muslim communities celebrate these events. Last year during Ramadan, for example, Tesco supermarket in the U.K. was accused of cultural insensitivity when one of its stores was found offering bacon-flavoured Pringles as part of a Ramadan promotion. Even though the product did not contain actual pork, consumption of which is forbidden in Islam, the promotion ended up receiving significant backlash from the community and on social media.

On the flip side, a common misconception stems from stereotyping – that Ramadan marketing is only for products that are typically associated with Muslims. Hence many big box retail flyers are splashed with offers on products like Halal meat and dates.

While many Canadian Muslims are immigrants, there is a significant number in the second generation and those who grew up in Canada. These younger Canadian Muslims are open to a lot more than traditional foods. Aside from staples such as rice, flour, sugar and lentils, they’re open to the CPG category, including desserts, cakes, ice cream and chocolate.

Then there are kitchen and homecare products that fit in well with Ramadan cooking and Eid cleaning themes. Much of the Eid festival that follows Ramadan is about cleaning the home, wearing new clothes, grooming and gifting. And since fasts last for over 17 hours and iftar dinners usually run until after 9 p.m. during summers, there is opportunity for over-the-counter health products such as vitamins, antacids and digestion relief products.

In the end, it all boils down to the feasibility of reaching out to this demographic. A pilot campaign during Ramadan can give brands that are a good fit a flavour of what they’ve been missing out on. If it does well, there is no reason why the segment cannot be engaged long-term and there are other lesser known yet important Muslim festivals and celebrations that can be leveraged for high-impact, tailored communication.

Reaching out to this niche through social media and groups with content that resonates is another great way to stay connected. Interestingly, some brands and banners may find little or no need for accommodation in their operations, products or processes to be able to effectively market to this community.

A great starting point, though, is to seek a better understanding of the diversity of Muslim culture.

Raza Mankani is director of strategy at multicultural marketing agency Focus Communications.

Featured image via Shutterstock