Ramadan is held during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is a time when Muslims fast and reflect. This means no eating or drinking between the hours of sunrise and sunset, encouraging people to be self-disciplined and to empathise with the less fortunate. Eid al Fitr marked the end of Ramadan last week.

There are over three million Muslims in the UK, and 60% of the younger generation want brands to address them more like a legitimate demographic - yet, beyond supermarkets offering Ramadan offers in isolated aisles, this calendar moment is usually neglected.

To give marketers insight into consumers’ mindsets and what brands can do, our Senior R&I Analyst, Nurfarah Mattar has analysed the social media conversations which took place during the month - both for this year and last - across the UK. 

The role of social in connecting communities
During Ramadan, online communities play a significant role in helping Muslims and non-Muslims to exchange knowledge about their practice and provide support to each other.

At the start of the month, a substantial amount of the conversation was positive (40-45%) as people shared well wishes and set goals for the month ahead. These often related to the increased compassion for others and devotion to God.

More than half of the positive mentions came from London, which has the largest Muslim population in England. Other cities with highest conversation volumes were Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds.

Meals influence routines & encourage socialisation
With fasting being a pillar of Ramadan, Suhoor (pre-dawn meal) and Iftar (breaking fast meal) form crucial times of the day, and daily routines are shifted accordingly. Due to the early sunrise and late sunset in the Spring and Summer period, people had Suhoor at about 3am and Iftar at about 9pm.

According to Think With Google, there is usually a search uplift in broadcast entertainment, cooking and gaming as people are looking to pass time until they can eat again. We also saw that social media conversations were highest during Iftar (9pm) and lasted until 2am, as people stayed awake for longer.

Instagram boasted pictures of meals, mainly by halal food bloggers invited to try seasonal menus at restaurants. Comfort food prevails but there is a growing awareness around healthier, vegetarian meals too (1.7K mentions in 2017 vs. 2.9k mentions in 2018). As found by The Guardian, it is common for halal butchers to see a rise in meat sales in Ramadan, but the desire for a less indulgent lifestyle has also resulted in more plant-based diets.

Group Iftars were also popular, not just for Muslims to connect with family and friends, but also to share the cultural experience with people of other faiths. This was usually initiated by mosques, bringing together members of the local community, as well as politicians in interfaith dialogues.

Brands should consider the change in routines (longer evenings, less sleep) and the sociology of meals during Ramadan, with respect to timing, diet, preference to eat in bigger groups and the influence of halal food bloggers.

The mid-month slump
Amidst the flurry of timeline updates and multi-directional swipes, there was an obvious effort to improve the self, slow down and express gratitude for family, friends and society. This aligns with the wider cultural shift from escapism to enrichment, where people (regardless of religion) put in more time to acquire skills, undertake self-improvement activities or try new experiences.

As Ramadan progressed, however, negative sentiment started to build, as people realised that they were falling short of their aspirations. They were worried about not visiting the gym enough, having lost or put on weight too quickly, and that their spiritual goals have not been fulfilled. Unintentionally then, the desire to be their best self was often intertwined with self-criticism, guilt and low morale.

Brands should identify tactical moments to provide motivational boosts for consumers, either at certain times of the day or in the middle of the month when devotion seems toughest, both mentally and physically.

Volvo Malaysia is a good example of this. The brand recognised that those fasting would be more tired and lethargic, and found that 22,000 road accidents were recorded during the month of Ramadan. They, therefore, partnered with radio stations to play music at a slower tempo of 60-80 beats per minute, as this has been proven to increase focus and concentration during busy traffic hours.

Brands could also join in more positive conversations on social media, which is used as a channel to laugh at relatable truths during Ramadan and circulate humourous content. These often include funny questions asked by non-Muslims (e.g. “You don’t eat anything for 30 days?”), memes, stereotypes of different types of people who are fasting, vlogs, and even Ramadan YouTube challenges carried out by curious non-Muslims.

Welcoming Eid
At the end of Ramadan, we saw positive sentiment spike again as Muslims celebrated Eid al Fitr (also known as Eid ul Fitr).  This day was commemorated with communal prayers at the mosque, followed by visits to family and friends’ homes. Social media feeds get flooded with images of traditional feasts, as well as Eid fashion and makeup looks. This is an incredibly important time for Muslim communities to reconnect with one another, and reflect on the past month.

Opportunities for brands
Brands looking to explore Ramadan as a calendar moment shouldn’t be afraid, as the motivations of the demographic - self-improvement, patience, charitable efforts, mindfulness, and strengthening bonds with family and friends - are after all universal, and not new.

Approaching any marketing activity with cultural understanding and sensitivity, and appreciating how consumer behaviour changes during this period, will be key.

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Overall, findings for this article were based on social listening in the UK (Ramadan 2018 and 2019), as well as desk research. For Instagram, we looked at 2017 and 2018 posts as API restrictions resulted in a smaller data set for this year.