Internationally, the Ramadan marks a month of reflection and austerity for the Muslim community1. Observant Muslims abstain from food from sunrise to sunset and gather after sunset to break their fast. Many people stay awake chatting and shopping, particularly online. Consequently, Muslim countries encounter an explosive rise in both online and conventional shopping. While Ramadan is a joyous month of spending time with friends and giving to charity, for businesspeople, it is a special month for a different reason. The businesses invest enormously in digital marketing and traditional advertising mediums in spite of the high advertising costs. Over the years, Ramadan has become a season of heavy consumerism and increased shopping. Thus, marketers have an obligation to advertise effectively during this period in a bid to take advantage of the various opportunities and evade Ramadan marketing errors that could be damaging.
Research significance and problem
Ramadan is the holy month of the Islamic lunar calendar and entails strict adherence to Islamic beliefs and practices. Ramadan is a period that Muslims spend more time reconnecting with friends and resting more as opposed to working2. This celebratory atmosphere leads to increased consumption particularly on meals, clothes, and jewelry. Consequently, businesspeople in many occasions have it wrong when it comes to advertisement. Marketers need to be keen when deciding what advertising messages to use during Ramadan. Besides, the advertisements should always respect the Muslim culture and beliefs. In some cases, marketers have come up with controversial adverts, as a way of wooing customers, which contravenes some Islamic principles. In this light, it is essential for marketers to engage local analysts to confirm that marketing messages do not offend the Muslims and potentially dent the brand identity.
This research covers two main objectives. First, this paper will explore some of the mistakes the media commits when it comes to their advertising during the holy month of Ramadan. Second, this paper will show how capitalism and consumerist ideals have flourished over spiritual and religious ones.
This research employs a longitudinal design whereby the study tracks a similar sample over time and makes several observations. For instance, the longitudinal design enables interviewing of the same group at defined intervals. Consequently, researchers can monitor changes in time as well as relate them to variables that determine why the variations occur. In the current case, the longitudinal design will help explain how marketing has led to a drastic deterioration in importance and spiritual value of the Ramadan. Ideally, this design offers a description of trends of change over a defined period.
Information sources for this research will include magazines, media on the web, scholarly and academic articles, and the research participants from Saudi Arabia. A magazine provides a collection of articles and images concerning various topics of interest and ongoing events. The aim is to obtain information or views regarding the Muslim culture. Journal is a collection of peer-reviewed articles essential in finding what has been established about a certain topic. The media on the web contains films, newspapers, blogs, and podcasts among other online channels. The target population provides actual experience about the research topic.
Data collection method and sample size
This research seeks to use interviews for data gathering. Interviews involve direct inquiry and recording by the researcher. The open-ended interview will be most appropriate since they provide an opportunity for further probing. Besides, more information can be achieved via observation since the designer of the questionnaire cannot anticipate all possible participant interpretations. This study will target a sample size of 10 participants from different cities in Saudi Arabia.
Online social usage in Saudi Arabia spikes substantially as Muslims post about 10 times more Facebook and Twitter content during Ramadan than during any other holiday3. Most chats shared online involve something that was observed in television, films or newspaper. Recent studies suggest that matter of spirituality have been overshadowed by the increased consumerism associated with Ramadan. The media has been blamed for its lucrative advertising that has made Muslims victims of consumerism during Ramadan. Spirituality and family is a hot topic, thus, marketers must ensure that all ages are covered and provocative messages must be avoided. Tobin provides a case of Servcorp, an IT company in Australia that was compelled to apologize and withdraw its wombat mascot advertisement that was mistaken for a pig by Malaysian Muslims during Ramadan4. The advert was entirely removed since it could generate some sensitivity during the month of Ramadan.
While the Islamic law dictates that Ramadan is a time for self-control, discipline, charity and refraining from material goods, scores of observers have consistently aired their concerns over what they see as pure consumerism meant to downplay the significance of Ramadan5. The consumer goods have provided an array of platforms that are used during the night for recreation despite their provocative overtone. For instance, the television offers an influx of Arab movies, many of which are considered unethical to the holy month of Ramadan. Besides, due to the lucrative marketing approaches, many Muslims fall victims to excess buying and consumption, forsaking the spirit of fasting. Unfortunately, the obsession with excessive consumerism goes against the traditional spirit of Ramadan. Fast-food restaurants provide nighttime Ramadan dishes and Saudi Muslims purchase twice as much food as usual.
In Saudi Arabia, Arab drama series and soap operas dominate the television stations as part of Ramadan fare. Ramadan is the period that continues to register the highest TV viewing in the Islamic states over the past decade6. Some of these TV shows have gained a lot of criticism for their provocative messages and imagery. Besides, most of them are not suitable for family watching and might provoke the goal to advance family togetherness. Those who are not watching televisions are busy chatting online only sharing pictures of their newly acquired cars and other consumer goods. This media craze shows the infusion of the real intent of the holy month. Critics have insisted that Ramadan is a moment to stick to religious obligations and only watch religious and family building shows rather than provocative shows.
Marketers put a lot of emphasis on creating messages to encourage people to think about food. Contrary, marketers should realize that Ramadan is not all about food. Ramadan is deeply concerned with charity and extending love to the less privileged. Fasting is a way to empathize with the poor and later sharing with them serves to show love. Since mere advertisement with food in it may create the wrong impression, it is important for marketers to include cultural touch in their advertisement. The message of harmony, kindness and charity form the theme around which desirable advertisements are coined. Muslims are more likely to acknowledge advertisements that manifest the true sense of Ramadan as opposed to lucrative marketing campaigns focused on making profits7.
Marketers need to understand that Ramadan is a period when Muslims abstain from consumables. Thus, marketers should avoid daytime advertising and focus on advertising during late hours in the night. Research suggests that in countries such as Saudi Arabia during Ramadan, social media is crowded past midnight. Marketers should use this opportunity to reach a large audience via digital channels. However, for many Muslims, such activities do not qualify as rampant commercialization threatening to undermine the old sensation of the holy month. Besides, such activities promote the experience of bringing the larger Muslim community together. However, “regardless of how people view the new trend of Ramadan, Muslims have to ensure a good balance of Ramadan material rituals and spirituality.”8 Besides, Muslims should not be swayed away by lucrative marketing deals but rather stay true to good practices of Ramadan. The media has an obligation to ensure that they do not go overboard to convince Muslims to overshadow spirituality over material goods.
Prosperous marketers in the Islamic states reckon that Ramadan can be a high season when digital marketing platforms are used appropriately for the right products and services. Such marketers have good understanding and relationship with their target customer, respect their culture, and strive to design creative advertisements that match with the theme of Ramadan. All media platforms should engage Muslims in activities that promote spiritual development and respect the holy month of Ramadan.
Budak, Ali (2006) Fasting in Islam & the Month of Ramadan. Clifton: Tughra Books.
Hellman, Jörgen (2008) “The significance of eating during Ramadan: consumption and exchange of food in a village in West Java” Food and Foodways, 3, 201-226.
Rauch, Jennifer (2007) “Activists as interpretive communities: rituals of consumption and interaction in an alternative media audience” Media, Culture & Society, 6, 994-1013.
Tobin, Sarah (2013) “Ramadan blues: debates in popular Islam during Ramadan in Amman, Jordan” Digest of Middle East Studies, 2, 292-316.
Whitman, Sylvia, and Sue Williams (2008) Under the Ramadan Moon. Morton Grove: A. Whitman & Co.
- Sylvia Whitman and Sue Williams (2008), Under the Ramadan Moon, Morton Grove: A. Whitman & Co., 97.
- Ali Budak, 2006, Fasting In Islam & the Month of Ramadan, New Jersey, Tughra Books, 44.
- Whitman and Williams, 112.
- Sarah Tobin, (2013) “Ramadan blues: debates in popular Islam during Ramadan in Amman, Jordan”, Digest of Middle East Studies, 2, 300.
- Jörgen Hellman (2008) “The significance of eating during Ramadan: consumption and exchange of food in a village in West Java,” Food and Foodways, 3, 216.
- Jennifer Rauch, “Activists as interpretive communities: rituals of consumption and interaction in an alternative media audience”, Media, Culture & Society, 6, 995.
- Tobin, 299.
- Ibid, 301.