As we approach Ramadan once again, Muslims around the world start to make their preparations for the annual fast, which this year starts on or around March 22nd.
For 30 days, the majority of the world’s 1.9 billion Muslims will abstain from food and drink from dawn til dusk, while taking time for deep inner reflection; strengthening their connection to their faith and enhancing their spiritual growth.
In recent years, this month and the days and weeks either side of it have become an unrivalled opportunity for conscious brands to connect meaningfully with global audiences, with statistics showing that spending and social media use increases exponentially during the month — opening up avenues for brands to be part of the Ramadan experience in authentic and beautiful ways.
For some quick and easy Ramadan tips, here are six key reminders for brands and companies to consider. For a more comprehensive look at what it takes to build a meaningful Ramadan strategy, scroll down to read our deep-dive article.
Ramadan is the spiritual pinnacle of the year for many Muslims, providing not only an opportunity for deep spiritual focus and inner reflection, but also gatherings with community, friends and family, charitable giving, gifting, and celebration.
It’s a month during which the Islamic Economy is at its peak, meaning heightened opportunities for brands with heart-centred intentions to forge genuine connections with Muslim communities. By serving and supporting, rather than selling and marketing, brands can garner mutual respect and build lasting relationships that continue long after the fast has ended.
Before we look at the specifics of Ramadan, and how brands can be of benefit during the month, it’s important to consider the wider economic context, and where the opportunities are for interacting with Muslims audiences.
According to the State of the Global Islamic Economy Report 2022 by Dinar Standard, Muslims spent more than $2 trillion in 2021 across the food, pharmaceutical, cosmetics, fashion, travel and media/recreation sectors – a figure that is expected to grow to $2.8 trillion by 2025.
Food spending is expected to reach $1.67 trillion by 2025, with modest fashion expected to reach $375 billion, pharmaceuticals $129 billion, cosmetics $93 billion, and travel $189 billion. What’s more, Islamic finance assets are expected to reach $4.9 trillion – up from $2.88 trillion in 2019.
Growing at nearly double the rate of the general worldwide economy, the report identified five demand-sider drivers to the Islamic Economy, including: A large, fast-growing & young Muslim population; Islamic values driving choices for Halal products and services; Expanding Global Islamic economies; digital connectivity and the rise of e-commerce; and increasing awareness of benefits for ethical values in all walks of life.
The growth of the Muslim middle class is also a major factor in the growth of the Islamic Economy, according to Shelina Janmohamed, vice president of Ogilvy Noor. In her book Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World, Shelina Janmohamed explains how a huge youth demographic (two-thirds of Muslims are under the age of 30) is leading a Muslim middle class with increasing wealth and buying power.
“The Muslim middle class, with greater affluence and sophisticated tastes as well as pride in their religion, are likely to triple from an estimated 300 million in 2015 to 900 million by 2030 … The Muslim middle classes are driving a boom in products and services aimed at Muslim tastes,” she wrote.
This economic growth means greater avenues and opportunities for brands to connect with Muslims — and these opportunities are even more prevalent during Ramadan.
It might seem counter-intuitive, but spending increases significantly during Ramadan. Research by Think With Google in 2018 found that consumer spend in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt increases by 53% overall during Ramadan – with spend on regular household items increasing by 90%.
A 2021 report by Snapcart showed similar numbers in Indonesia, with 46% of consumers spending more during Ramadan – an increase over the previous year, but still some way off pre-pandemic figures of almost 70%. And in the US, a survey found that 62% of respondents spent more on groceries during Ramadan than in other months.
With meals to shop for and prepare, clothes to buy for gatherings, online courses to join, iftars to attend, Eid gifts to buy, charity to give, and more, it isn’t hard to understand why spending increases so drastically at this time of year. To put a figure on it, Statista showed that spending in MENA alone during Ramadan was $6.2 billion in 2022 – up from $4.2 billion in 2021.
In its 2021 Ramadan Report, Onest Data showed that 51% of people spent more time shopping online during Ramadan 2020, while a survey by Checkout.com ahead of Ramadan 2021 found that 76% of people in the UAE and Saudi Arabia planned to purchase products and services online more frequently during the Holy Month.
In fact, people are spending more time on devices in general during Ramadan - not only for buying, but communication, entertainment, research, and more. A Facebook study showed that 48% of those celebrating Ramadan and Eid in 2020 believed that they spent more time on their mobile device over the season.
TGM Research’s Ramadan 2022 Global Study went even further, showing that 74% of people across 18 countries in the Middle East, Africa, South East Asia and Europe say they increase use of their mobile device during Ramadan. Some 71% increase their use of social media for a variety of reasons including ‘to learn new things I care about’ (87%), ‘to send greetings’ (85%), ‘to make a donation or help volunteering’ (79%), ‘to watch online videos’ (77%), and ‘to shop for myself or others’ (70%), among a long list of uses.
Facebook also revealed that 69% of people in Saudi Arabia use Instagram to search for gift ideas, while 70% of people in the UAE use Facebook for the same purpose. Twitter reported that one in three Twitter users across the MENA region explored and tried new products via the platform during Ramadan, and Google reported that searches for quick recipes such as ‘10-minute biscuits’ grew 1,000% week-on-week during the month, as people looked for new ways to make traditional recipes.
YouTube is also a big part of people’s Ramadan routines, with Google research showing that views of cooking videos increase during the month leading up to Ramadan, peaking at 30% higher than average during the first week of the Holy Month. TV drama series are also popular, with viewership increasing by 151% during Ramadan, as well as a 447% increase in likes, 228% increase in shares, and 490% increase in subscriber sign-ups. In fact, in 2018, Google reported that Ramadan viewership on YouTube increased three-fold in comparison to TV over three years.
Meta’s Meet Meta Ramadan Report added that 65% of people spend more time watching video content during Ramadan and Eid.
Gaming has also become increasingly prominent during Ramadan - partly on the back of Covid-related lockdowns and periods of isolation in recent years. In 2021, Google reported a year-on-year increase in entertainment app downloads of 37%, while online gaming across MENA went up by 107%.
On the theme of entertainment, TikTok’s post-Ramadan evaluation by IPSOS last year showed that it was the number one platform for mobile entertainment across the MENAT region during Ramadan, beating messaging, video, social and gaming. In 2022, video views increased by 44% over 2021, while videos published increased by 28%. The report also showed that TikTok inspired people to shop 1.6 times more than planned, with 70% of users saying the platform ‘made them buy new things’.
These impressive stats all add up to greater opportunities for brands and organisations to connect, learn and engage with Muslim audiences. And Muslims want to be engaged.
Discussing Generation M back in 2016, Shelina Janmohamed told The Guardian newspaper: “Brands have been a little bit over-cautious. It seems to be a really radical idea that Muslims actually buy stuff. Muslims are saying: ‘Hello, we’ve got lots of money to spend, we’re young, we’re cool, please can you deal with us in the same way you deal with everyone else?.”
In fact, Ogilvy’s The Great British Ramadan report in 2018 revealed that despite 62% of UK Muslims saying they are not served well by brands, some 78% said they would be interested in companies that did stock for Ramadan and Eid.
TGM Research found that 71% agreed that ‘it is important that brands understand my faith, while 74% agreed that brands should have religious awareness when marketing products to them.
The months leading up to Ramadan are your chance to get to know Muslim audiences, and for them to get to know you. Now is the time to show them that you care about talking with them.
Being present during Ramadan isn’t as simple as adding a crescent moon to your marketing campaign and sending out a generic ‘Ramadan Kareem’ on the first day of the month. Here are some important things to consider when planning your Ramadan campaign.
“Being present during Ramadan isn’t as simple as adding a crescent moon to your marketing campaign”
Islam is universal, but Muslims are not homogenous. Quite the opposite. From Detroit to Dubai and Sao Paulo to Sydney, different nationalities, cultures, communities and families celebrate Ramadan differently. With 1.9 billion Muslims worldwide, there’s a lot of diversity. And while it’s impossible to understand everybody’s habits and pour them into a seasonal marketing campaign, it is important to understand your target demographic’s nuances, as well as the threads that tie Muslims together during Ramadan.
One thing that most Muslims would likely agree on is that daily (and nightly) habits change during Ramadan.
For example, people are often awake and asleep at atypical times. It’s not unusual for people to nap during the day, and be awake longer into the night - especially if they plan to eat suhoor, a meal taken shortly before sunrise ahead of a new day of fasting.
To highlight specific Ramadan behaviours, Think With Google put forward seven Ramadan personas – four traditional, and three that have emerged in the past year or two.
The traditional four are: The foodie, the spiritual faster, the entertainment lover, and the Ramadan shopper. While the new three include: The seeker of mental refuge, the escapist, and the progress seeker.
The ‘foodie’ is based on a 125% year-on-year growth in food-related queries on Google during Ramadan (in MENA), and a 23% year-on-year increase in grocery delivery apps in the UAE and Saudi Arabia in the first week of the month.
Meanwhile, the ‘spiritual faster’ focuses on prayer and charity, and is based on a 1,860% year-on-year increase in searches for ‘religious app downloads’, with the ‘entertainment lover’ based on a growth in digital content searches from gaming to shows to podcasts. Entertainment app downloads increased by 37% year-on-year.
The ‘Ramadan shopper’ highlights the growth of e-commerce app downloads, with shopping queries up 30% in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and 45% in the UAE between Ramadan 2019 and 2020.
The ‘seeker of mental refuge’ tries to 'build a positive state of mind through home workouts, yoga, moments in nature, and self care’, according to Google, based on searches for ‘exercise’ growing by 115% between 2019 and 2020.
The ‘escapist’ touches on arts and crafts – with a 50% search increase across MENA in queries for Ramadan decorations – as well as gaming, with search queries up 107%. And finally, the ‘progress seeker’ aims to be as productive as possible, with searches about ‘routine’ increasing by 120%.
On top of this, Google has also suggested six Ramadan customer types, including: Generous giver, foodie, binge watcher, traveller, gatherings host and gamer.
The past couple of years have also seen a change in habits for the vast majority of Muslims around the world, no matter their personas or customer types. Covid-19, along with its accompanying lockdowns, social distancing, isolation, economic hardship, and physical and mental challenges, put a very different spin on the Holy Month.
Mosques, restaurants, and social gatherings may have reopened around the world, but the collective trauma of Covid, as well as lasting concerns and continuing Covid cases in some geographies, provide another layer that marketing teams need to be aware of and sympathetic towards.
Ramadan is the longest-celebrated religious festival of the year, according to consultancy-me.com, which clocks it at around seven weeks in total, including pre-Ramadan preparations, the month itself, and Eid celebrations in the days after. By comparison, Christmas celebrations run for two weeks, with three weeks for Diwali and Chinese New Year.
This means there is a long period of Ramadan exposure, which extends and expands your marketing potential, but also necessitates an understanding of how Ramadan changes over time.
As well as the pre-Ramadan preparation phase, and post-Ramadan Eid phase, there are three distinct phases to the month of Ramadan itself – the first 10 days, second 10 days, and last 10 days. You might want to consider each phase separately - or at least differently - as Muslims can have a different approach and experience during each stage.
For example, Google puts the pre-Ramadan period at two-weeks, and says that it’s filled with planning, buying groceries, decorating homes, and readying the house and themselves for guests. In fact, it reports that online grocery shopping and delivery searches in MENA reach their annual peak one week before Ramadan, while there is a 72% increase in dressing up and fashion-related content on YouTube.
After the buildup to the Ramadan, Google splits the month into two sets of two weeks. The first fortnight is characterized by excitement, emotional connections, and spirituality taking centre stage. This is seen in an increase in downloads of religious apps, viewing of beauty tutorials featuring simple, natural looks, and searching themed recipes - by both men and women.
The second fortnight focuses on the countdown to Eid, with beauty and grooming searches becoming more festive, dining moving from homes to restaurants, and people searching for gifts for loved ones.
To accompany this, many Muslims will follow the traditional 10-10-10 split of Ramadan.
In the first 10 days, many people are spiritually invigorated - determined to make the most of Ramadan, but also trying to adapt to a new schedule that can see their energy flagging. Evenings are active, with people hosting and attending iftar gatherings, as well as making use of the night to read Qur’an.
The second 10 days usually see people getting more into the flow of Ramadan; perhaps more settled and less fatigued as they get into a rhythm and routine. Spirituality can become somewhat more serene, with a focus on turning inwards and undergoing deeper contemplation.
It is during the last 10 days that Muslims typically immerse themselves more fully in spiritual matters. Traditionally, many would go into I’tikaf – retreating into isolation, whether at home or a mosque – with the intention of dedicating your time to worship. There is a sense that this is a last chance to make prayers, give charity, do good deeds, and see through all the good intentions you made at the start of the month. As a result, your Muslim colleagues might want to take these 10 days as leave from work. If not, be mindful that they may be fatigued due to spending much of the night in spiritual immersion.
Things change quite dramatically in the fifth phase of Ramadan, which is actually not Ramadan at all, but Eid. This celebration of the end of the month (and the end of the fast) features parties, gatherings, and often lively festivities full of eating, gifting, and socialising.
With a more sales-tinted lens, advertising company Criteo highlighted five time-related aspects of Ramadan that marketers should bear in mind. As well as explaining that sales and traffic rise during Ramadan, that it is the month of mobile, and that people plan travel at this time, Criteo also pointed out that: ‘The second half of Ramadan = conversions’, and ‘sales happen at sundown’.
On the sundown sales, Criteo said its data showed that sales dip when the fast ends each day before rising sharply around two hours later, and staying high during the night - significantly higher than non-Ramadan days. In fact, their research showed that at 4am - shortly before the next day’s fast begins – sales are 17% higher than on an average day.
Ramadan should not be approached as simply a money-making opportunity, but rather a chance to connect with potential, new, or existing customers and show them that you care.
“Ramadan should not be approached as simply a money-making opportunity”
It’s important to learn what people need, what people care about, and how you can be of service. Perhaps you could address Ramadan food wastage? Or be people’s go-to guide for home-made kids’ activities? Being a part of your audience’s community will help you to craft a campaign that really means something to them, allowing you to flow naturally with the spirit of Ramadan rather than trying to shoehorn your brand into people’s thinking.
As you already know, having all the data, insights and understanding in the world can count for naught if you haven’t got the right design. Design can play a major role in the success or failure of your communication, and Ramadan is no exception.
Two key studies have illustrated just how important design is to brands from a business perspective. In 2018, consulting firm McKinsey published its report The Business Value of Design, which included its McKinsey Design Index. The MDI tracked 300 publicly listed companies over a five-year period, collecting more than two million pieces of financial data and recording more than 100,000 design actions.
Based on four themes of good design – analytical leadership, cross-functional talent, continuous iteration, and user experience – the index rated how strong companies are at design, and how that links with their financial performance.
Top-quartile MDI scorers enjoyed 32 percentage points higher revenue growth, and 56 percentage points higher total returns to shareholders growth.
Similarly, the Design Value Index illustrated the advantages for design-led brands. Launched in 2013 by consultancy firm Motiv and the Design Management Institute, the index measures the impact of investment in design in relation to the overall S&P Index.
The most recent version of the index (2015) was based on a portfolio of 16 publicly traded stocks in the US that met DMI’s criteria for being design-led: Apple, Coca-Cola, Ford, Herman-Miller, IBM, Intuit, Nike, Procter & Gamble, SAP, Starbucks, Starwood, Stanley Black & Decker, Steelcase, Target, Walt Disney, and Whirlpool.
The DMI found that “over the last 10 years, design-led companies have maintained significant stock market advantage, outperforming the S&P by an extraordinary 228 percent”.
As well as designing thoughtful campaigns and communications for Muslim audiences, you should also look close to home and design inclusive, accommodating and empathetic environments for your Muslim colleagues.
A 2021 study by the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation showed that a majority of Fortune 100 companies fail to include faith or belief in their websites’ main diversity landing pages. Religion is mentioned 92 times across 43% of the pages, while racial diversity, for example, is mentioned more than 1,000 times across 95% of pages.
There is a glaring gap that desperately needs to be addressed - especially if websites’ lack of inclusion translates into general company attitude. The good news is there are some easy ways for you and your organisation to support Muslim colleagues during Ramadan.
When working with the Islamic Economy, especially during Ramadan, designing with heart matters. Elements of Islam such as ethics, charity, kindness, honesty, healthy living, and many others are enhanced during the Holy Month, and should be reflected, or at least acknowledged in your seasonal campaigns.
From food to fashion to finance, ethical practice and alignment of values plays a central role in buying decisions - not that it’s a uniquely Islamic consideration.
“From food to fashion to finance, ethical practice and alignment of values plays a central role in buying decisions”
In the 2021 edition of the State of the Global Islamic Economy Report, Dinar Standard writes: “Many of the values underpinning the Islamic Economy sectors are universal and appeal to ethical consumers. A global study by Nielsen indicated that 66% of consumers are willing to pay more for ethical/sustainable products. Younger consumers were even more committed, with 73% of millennials willing to pay more.
“With the rise of ethical consumerism, many halal brands have attracted both Muslim and non-Muslim consumers, from halal organic brands such as Saffron Road to ethical micro-finance platforms such as Ethis Crowd and Blossom Finance.”
So if Ramadan catalyses your brand’s approach to ethics, then all the better for your overall offering.
Religious identity also matters to Muslims. Janmohamed writes in Generation M the Muslim millennials are “a tech-savvy, self-empowered, youthful group who believe that their identity encompasses both faith and modernity”.
This doesn’t mean that you have to talk about doctrine, but it does mean that faith – and heart – is often at the centre of Muslims’ decision-making.
Another thing to be mindful of is people’s charitable giving during Ramadan. According to the Charity Commission, Muslims in the UK gave £130 million to charity during Ramadan 2020 alone. And in their 2020 study Embracing Uncertainty: How to Feel Emotionally Stable in a Pandemic, Osman Umarji and Hassan Elway conservatively estimated that the Ramadan donations of the 1,722 North American Muslims they surveyed equalled nearly $2 million.
Entering into this spirit is vital for brands during Ramadan. It’s not about taking, it’s about giving. It’s about being of service, helping others, reflecting, and being purposeful.
At Gould Studio we developed a set of six spiritually-inspired principles that we routinely apply to our processes, in order to create more meaning in our work. We shared and expanded on these principles during workshops for the likes of Apple and Google in 2022, and believe they can add tremendous value to any organisation around the world.
The principles include:
Together, they help us to ask better questions about ourselves and the work we’re doing, encouraging us to make a more positive impact on the world around us. They give us a new modality for thinking about our role, responsibility, and potential, as well as keep us connected to the things that our audiences and our clients’ audiences care about – designing for wellbeing, social good, and inclusion.
However you choose to approach your Ramadan strategy, remember the significance of the month to many people around the globe as a deeply special time. Whether that’s in the strategy you undertake, the messaging you put across, the communication you employ, or even the way you understand and support you Muslim colleagues, be excellent in your intentions and execution, and make this a memorable and meaningful Ramadan for your brand and your audience.
Peter Gould is the founder and CEO of Gould Studio; a strategic design consulting firm based in Sydney, Dubai, Beirut and Jakarta.
Through Gould Studio, Peter advocates for Heart-Centered Design to create meaningful brands, cross-cultural understanding and transformative change.Over 20 years, Peter has designed brands, products and experiences for Muslim audiences, and worked with mainstream clients including Apple, Google, United Nations and Greenpeace, as well as being appointed an Australia for UNHCR Ambassador.
Working at the intersection of design, spirituality and entrepreneurship, his diverse portfolio ranges from senior government projects to Web3 startups, and his contributes have brought him international acclaim, including a major award from the Vice-President of the UAE.
Research and editorial contributions by Neil King.