Ramadan Campaigns and the 5 Common Pitfalls

Thought Leadership

Each year the certainty that the holy month of Ramadan will come around two weeks earlier than the last, is met with the certainty that many brands will, again and again, fall into the trap of creating campaigns that lack substance, underwhelming their audiences; despite the effort and funding funnelled into them. 

Ad campaigns have become a staple part of Ramadan, particularly in the Middle East – where consumers’ feeds are flooded with picture-perfect images of families sharing beautifully prepared Iftar meals together. Yet the reality is that Ramadan in 2022 has moved far beyond this. It’s a time of juxtaposition; it’s quiet moments merged with chaos, it’s fasting and feasting, it’s inner reflection and community celebration. To present Ramadan as a picture-perfect moment in time through the lens of a brand is denying your audience the true power and significance this holy month has in our world today.

Our Head of Strategy at Socialize Dubai, Ailidh Smylie, carves out the top five ‘pitfalls’ brands tend to stumble into, with suggested alternative ways-in to help communities connect and celebrate at this time of year and for years to come.

1. Turning Passive outdated messaging into Interactive Actionable Storytelling 
Ramadan social posts have primarily been joyous and celebratory – often stopping at a well-wishing, coupled with seasonal creative cues, like crescent moons & lanterns. Campaigns go a little further, with brands wishing their audience similar joy & good wishes, through the lens of idyllic family celebrations in the home. But as our consumers’ brand expectations evolve, so must a brand’s approach to connecting with its community at this time of year.

It’s not enough for a brand to share a message and hope its community listened. Instead, brands must step into the community and involve consumers to be a part of something meaningful. We can see this changing narrative happening with brands like Faces Middle East’s campaign ‘30 days of giving’, asking their community on Tik Tok to nominate small businesses and accounts that specialize in beauty and skincare, to help build a catalogue to support local talents across the region.

@facesbeautymiddleeast خلينا ندعم ونساند بعض في اول اسبوع من رمضان 🌙🥰 #ramadankareem #رمضان_يجمعنا #30DaysOfGiving #٣٠_يوم_من_العطاء #فيسز #facesbeautymiddleeast #fyp #foryourpage ♬ Ramadan 2022 – Saif

A more CSR lead approach is Old El Paso’s Wrap It Up Campaign, worked on here at Socialize, which started back in 2021 tackling the issue of food waste. The campaign sees carefully selected influencers create content to educate their own communities on choosing the right tortillas and how to transform Iftar leftovers into new meals using the #WrapItUp generator. Consumers are able to make a pledge to not waste leftovers and for the pledge, Old El Paso will donate a pack of wraps to a  local charity, UAE Food Bank.

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And finally, we cannot fail to mention the #MealsforReels campaign with more than 100 content creators across MENA, UK and Spain coming together to support the 1 Billion Meals initiative. In partnership with Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives (MBRGI), the campaign invites food content creators, chefs and food enthusiasts to create Ramadan “Reels” on Facebook and Instagram during the Holy Month. Once a “Reel” has been posted, its creator will attach a donation wallet provided by MBRGI for their fans and followers to contribute to the 1 Billion Meals initiative.

Simply put – brands can no longer passively share CSR initiatives or blanket messaging at this time of year, they have to be adding value to a consumer, every step of the way – without hindering their online experience.

2. Badly chosen ‘influencers’ become ‘handpicked co-creators’
Macro, micro, KOL’s, content creators: whatever you call them, we have seen a huge shift in influencer perception in the Middle East – with brands historically using ‘badged macro influencers’ to maximise reach and exposure of their messaging, like in Zed Real Estate’s Ramadan ‘music video’, a formula they have applied for the third year in a row. This is starting to change, as consumers continue to crave relatable, authentic content from people they trust in their social communities, yet many brands haven’t quite caught on…

There is, and (probably) always will be a place for macro-influencers to cascade brand messaging, whilst strengthening brand credibility via association. If these KOL’s are picked  – via your brand lens principles, they will be a powerful asset to any campaign; yet the major pitfall is using macro, or even micro-influencers who have little to do with your brand, to portray a message for you that won’t resonate with those you need it to.

Instead, handpicked co-creators who embody your brand ethos and may have far fewer followers will always deliver a more credible, engaging message to their relevant communities, at this busy time of year. We’ve seen this come to life for numerous local and global brands in the region, like Mercedes-Benz Middle East, launching a four-part docuseries exploring the history and practices of the holy month. In the campaign, viewers witness Nabil Al Rostaman, a successful commercial aviation pilot, on a journey of self-discovery as he makes the pilgrimage to Mecca – a trip that Muslims have embarked on for thousands of years.

We struggled to find any further examples of authentic creators working with brands to bring Ramadan campaigns to life, which is telling in itself. For this traditional time of year, brands are still struggling to step away from traditional ‘tried and tested’ older approaches, but we urge them to consider or risk becoming ‘irrelevant’. 

3. Stereotyped family roles are out. Accurate, changing family dynamics are in.
Brands are definitely stepping away from the cliche and traditional ways of portraying Ramadan, especially for moms and women. We’re starting to see more dads and male chef influencers in the kitchen, helping around the house and even decorating for Ramadan which wasn’t the norm several years back. We’re also seeing a new-found awareness of mothers’ changing responsibility, starting in 2020, becoming much more widespread – heightened this year with Ramadan coinciding with Mothers Day allowing brands to couple the two important calendar moments together.

Mothers are actively being ‘seen’ – and instead of ‘thanked’ and positioned as heroes, they are, finally, being ‘helped’. Our very own Home of Switz campaign asks the community to share nominations for their own mothers, who deserve some well earned time back in their day. 30 families in UAE, KSA and Oman will be gifted a pre-prepared Ramadan box of samosas, to save Mom handcrafting them each day along with the many other things she is doing.

Although the concept isn’t new, the tone is shifting from directly promoting product/service to painting a picture of “Mom is human too”, leading up to the brands role in providing them with what they need to not feel pressured during Ramadan. We’ve also seen this portrayed in Puck Arabia’s #NoSuperMomsHere campaign where they show how people might really be feeling at this time of year, and encourage them to move away from aiming for perfection. This is not easy for any woman who has societal pressures upon her, to be the perfect wife and mother – and it’s heightened during the season. 

4. Copy, paste creative for the mass becomes innovative, fresh creative ways in
It’s no surprise that in KSA, where consumers spend 3 hours 6 minutes a day on social media and in UAE where social media penetration is the highest in the world Global Digital Report 2022 – KSA & UAE – that consumers will not tolerate being spammed with one campaign message, often a longer-form video, across their social journey.

We see this once-upon-a-time ‘winning’ approach starting to tire with audiences, and campaign videos that may have amassed 12mil+ views on Youtube now amassing around 1-2mil with very low engagement. Why? Because consumer social behaviour is ever-changing – they’re building new communities in new spaces, hopping between them and expecting different experiences in each place. 

A great example of this is ​​Snapchat’s first-ever augmented reality (AR) led virtual mall launching in the MENA region, which will feature some of the region’s most popular consumer brands: L’Oreal, AL Futtaim- IKEA & Namshi  – allowing consumers to browse their favourite products through a unique shopping experience. 

We also like Sports Direct’s approach, launching a podcast, Fast Enough: Ramadan Running, that will be hosted by Olympian Lutalo Muhammad dropping 30-minutes before sunset on a weekly basis and set to 120bpm, each episode will provide expert advice to optimize training during Ramadan

Consumers may be on almost all platforms at different times, but brands don’t need to be everywhere; instead it’s wise to pick a few key spaces for your Ramadan campaign to come to life that works with the aesthetics & user behaviour of the platform. One interactive & immersive campaign on Instagram for example, could better suit your brand purpose than nine copy-pasted videos cut into bite-size chunks across an ecosystem.

5. Archaic Mass broadcasting must morph into fluid, multifaceted journeys
In previous years, brands have opted for a mass awareness approach, with one key asset that has perhaps been cut down to bitesize video chunks to maximise completion rates, laddering up to the campaigns ‘success’.

Brands must adopt a multi-faceted approach, so they’re visible and available in the right spaces for your consumer. This also allows for organic frequency – the more they see you across different channels in different forms, the stronger your brand recall will be.

It’s better not to focus on the campaign’s main pieces of content and highlight the overall experience the audience is having with the brand which can start with the campaign’s main message all the way to the brand’s personality and how it interacts with people and be part of them. We somehow tend to forget these little elements that push the campaign to the next level (Community Management; Perfect Content Plan; Brand Personality). 

We Are Social’s Global Head of Media Brittany Wickerson comments: “When it comes to paid media campaigns, brands need to align three key elements: the audience targeting, the user behaviour and the creative messaging. When done properly, this not only helps move potential customers along the buying journey, it also ensures the right level of frequency and exposure to your content across channels.

The 5 Key Takeaways to deploy for 2023 Ramadan campaigns:

Interactive actionable storytelling will help involve brand communities to action change together.

Handpicked co-creators will strengthen your brand’s purpose by adding credibility, and heightening engagement with newfound audiences.

Accurate family representation portrays a brand as culturally relevant, appealing to younger generations who expect brands to not only keep up with societal changes but to step ahead and take charge.

Innovative, fresh creative approaches will never fail to capture attention and entertain consumers, particularly when utilizing new community spaces, and technologies that allow a more engaging and meaningful experience with the brand.

Fluid, multifaceted consumer journeys will strengthen a brand’s presence, engaging in spaces that count, to reach the right people, at the right time.