Why aren’t brands engaging with Muslims during Ramadan and Eid?

In the UK, Muslims make up 5.4% of the population (15% of London’s) and Islam is the second largest religion after Christianity. It’s also the fastest growing religion both in the UK and in the world. Muslims in Britain form one of the most diverse communities in the world, representing cultures from Asia to Africa, and contributing over £31 billion to the UK economy. In fact, British Muslim spending power is estimated at over £20.5 billion and young Muslims are the fastest growing demographic segment for international brands. So why is more not being done to reach out to them?

It’s clear that more needs to be done to address diversity in marketing and advertising. Although some brands have committed themselves to representing our society better, many are still struggling to implement a diverse marketing strategy, with some questioning how to even approach it.

June marked the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, in which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk to increase spirituality. During Ramadan, all Muslims must give Zakat, a charitable giving in Islam. It is one of the five pillars of Islam and it’s compulsory to donate 2.5% of your net income on a yearly basis. In 2016, the government revealed that British Muslims gave £100 million to charitable causes during the month of Ramadan, amounting to £38 a second. In fact, British Muslims are the top online charity givers, donating to causes from soup-kitchens in Britain to building micro-dams in Mali. However, many charities, unless specifically targeted at Muslims like Islamic Relief or Muslim Aid, do not have ongoing comms to connect with Muslims.

From a commercial perspective, engaging with Muslims should be obvious

A study by Mintel showed that out of those taking part in Ramadan/Eid, 23% bought an outfit, 14% bought decorations, novelties and/or costume for the occasion, 31% hosted or attended a party or special meal, 40% bought a gift and 21% a card. From a commercial perspective, the value of engaging with Muslims is obvious. However, only a handful of brands have managed to take advantage of this opportunity and have ongoing direct comms with this community.

So why haven’t brands done more to engage with Muslims? The first reason is that multicultural marketing is still not an area that is front-of-mind for most marketing teams. For example, when annual plans are made, every year massive budgets are put aside for Christmas campaigns, but the same thought and budget is not put into the ‘Christmases’ of other faiths like Ramadan/Eid, Diwali, Hanukah and more. Even when planning a Christmas campaign, most marketers won’t consider how much of the communications won’t be relevant to how Poles celebrate their Christmas ‘Wigilia’, missing out on engaging with the biggest foreign-born contingent in the UK as they’re unlikely to consume mainstream media due to language barriers.

When building a target audience, marketers are likely to segment by age, gender, consumption habits and behaviours but they don’t consider ethnicity and religion which are two of the most powerful segmentations and weapons to help us connect with consumers at a human level.

Ethnicity and religion are a massive part of who we are and stick with us for generations, whether someone is the first generation in the UK with a heavy influence from their home, or if someone is second or third generation and has adopted values from both their heritage and their life in Britain. Many people are non-practicing or do not put their faith into Christianity, but they will still celebrate Christmas. The same goes for a Muslim family, many non-practicing Muslims still celebrate Eid.

Is the fear factor holding brands back from doing multicultural marketing?

The next thing to hold marketers back once they have begun to consider these audiences is the fear factor. What if you get it wrong and end up offending the people we want to connect with? It’s not surprising that highly publicised mistakes such as a supermarket promoting a pork flavoured crisp with a Ramadan message to Muslims (Muslims are not allowed to eat pork!) make marketers nervous.

Finally, it is the sheer amount of effort that is required to start undertaking a multicultural marketing campaign. Anyone working at an agency will know that getting the client to buy into an idea or campaign that’s not budgeted, not entirely in-line with the annual plan and is delving into a new area is a massive challenge. It involves undertaking new research, developing new creatives, understanding new media channels, and when you add that fear factor the road blocks often come up.

Only a few brands reach out to religious and ethnic minorities

The industry has started taking steps towards being more inclusive in its advertising with campaigns such as Mars’ collaboration with Scope and Dove’s ‘Beauty Diversity’ campaign. However, when it comes to engaging audiences from faith minorities, especially Muslims, there are only a handful of brand examples that come to mind.

Sainsbury’s is one brand that has reaped the benefits of engaging with Muslim audiences. What makes Sainsbury’s efforts work is that its campaigns are not just about advertising its products or offers for Ramadan. The work is authentic, innovative and touches on people’s real lives. It has a goal to support Muslims during Ramadan, whether that means creating Ramadan recipes or Ramadan timetables to keep track of prayer times, Iftar and Sahoor time (times to break and start fasting). It also works with multicultural media owners to bring back childhood Ramadan memories by publishing interviews with Muslim celebrities. Even simple things like wishing a happy meal every evening at Iftar time creates a strong connection with the brand. This combined with the efforts of the other three of the big four supermarkets, resulted in a sales uplift of £100m during Ramadan in 2015. As published on Campaign, recent research findings from Channel Mum show that Sainsbury’s was the most commonly used supermarket by Muslim mothers, while Asda was praised for its halal food and modest wear.

Other examples of mainstream brands reaching out to religious and ethnic minorities include H&M’s global corporate social responsibility campaign in 2016 which featured a Muslim model with a headscarf. More recently Amazon Prime’s ad: A Priest and Imam Meet for a Cup of Tea came in 16 percent above the category norm in overall score according to Ace Metrix measures, performing on par with or better than all Amazon ads of the past two years. Slowly, we’re starting to see the successes of brands that focus their campaigns on connecting with communities at an emotional level.

Reaching out more frequently is key

There are many commercial opportunities surrounding Ramadan and Eid, but it doesn’t need to end there. I believe that all brands, regardless of tactical opportunities related to products and services, need to get involved in celebrating cultural diversity in the UK. Brands and agencies need to be brave and rise to the challenge and the efforts needed to make it happen. Like many brands, get multicultural marketing specialists internally or externally to help you advance much faster than just trying to do everything from scratch.

Once you have done your research and understood the relationship between your products and services and Muslims you can begin to explore more opportunities. Even if your products or services may not be in high demand during Ramadan or Eid you can still reach out and support Muslims during this time. Outside of these celebrations, they still consume and do many of the things the mainstream British public does so don’t wait until you have a ‘specially made’ product or service for Muslims, this can also help you to avoid becoming patronising or stereotyping. The key is being authentic and showing that you understand and value them. The more frequently you reach out to them through your work, the easier it will be over time to understand British Muslims and build that connection.

The only way to build brand loyalty with the followers of a faith is to acknowledge and represent the way they are and what they believe in. After all, Mohammed was the most common name given to new born boys in 2015* so it’s important to note that they’ll be a huge part of our future consumer landscape.

What are you waiting for?

Census, Mintel, Census, ONS, *Independent-collective spellings of Muhammed, Campaign Live


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