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Pay attention to consumers’ changing behaviours during Ramadan

Marketers are looking at ways to understand and capitalise on the days and weeks following Eid

Women shop for traditional 'fanous' lanterns in what marketers call the preparation stage of Ramadan Reuters
Women shop for traditional 'fanous' lanterns in what marketers call the preparation stage of Ramadan

To the 1.9 billion Muslims in the world Ramadan is a highlight of the Islamic calendar. Its timing depends on the moon, meaning its dates change each year relative to the Gregorian calendar. 

This year Ramadan started on March 10 and will run until April 9. Ninety-eight percent of Muslims celebrate Ramadan, and 94 percent fasted in 2023, according to TGM, a mobile market research provider.

Ramadan may seem like an unchanging fixture, set in tradition, but from a marketing perspective it is mutating. Shifts in consumer behaviours, and how brands react to capture attention and market share, represent more of an evolution than a revolution. 

The factors that shape conversations between brands and consumers are affected by everything from technology to geopolitics to the weather.

Ramadan comes in phases. Marketers like to label these with catchy titles such as “preparation”, “excitement”, “reflection” and “celebration,” but they boil down to much the same approach.

In marketers’ eyes, people get ready for Ramadan a week or two (sometimes as much as a month) before the crescent moon appears, buying food and preparing themselves and their families. Then, in the month itself, people get down to fasting, being more contemplative and pious, and spending time with family and friends at iftars and suhoors.

Increasingly, marketers are looking at ways to understand and capitalise on the days and weeks following Eid too, as the Muslim world eases itself back into day-to-day living.

Google, for example, has published a number of studies on Ramadan habits, and breaks these into four stages.

In the two weeks before Ramadan, searches around grocery shopping and deliveries peak. YouTube searches around groceries and decorating are highest just before the start of the month, as are searches around prayer.

YouTube searches for reviews of small kitchen appliances are up 164 percent and there is a 72 percent rise in fashion content.

In the first two weeks of Ramadan, searches for religious app downloads have risen 1,860 percent since 2020. Searches for food rise 44 percent among women and 70 percent among men, and interest in dessert recipes on YouTube grows twice as fast as for general cookery.

In weeks three and four of the holy month, anticipation builds ahead of Eid. There is a 20 percent increase in searches for shaving and grooming for men, and a 200 percent growth in searches for pilgrimage and Umrah. During Eid, there is a surge in interest in restaurants. 

As Ramadan shifts from hot summer months to the cooler spring consumers are likely to be outside more, which makes a difference to what they are buying.

A survey by Toluna, a consumer insights company, found that 52 percent of people in the UAE were excited about the outdoor options open to them this Ramadan.

Half (51 percent) said they would buy more dates; 47 percent will buy more hot beverages; 46 percent plan to buy more chocolates and sweets than last year; and a third will be spending more on moisturisers and oral care products.

Shoppers during Ramadan often have more time on their hands, and can take longer to think about their purchases, making the month a good time for brands to build awareness.

Meta says that 72 percent of consumers explore different product categories during Ramadan from the rest of the year. It is also a good time to gather data; consumers with more time on their hands are prepared to share information and preferences in return for discounts or privileges.

More time to consider purchases can also lead to more conscientious buying choices. Toluna found that 47 percent of UAE residents intend to buy more from local firms as a result of “recent geopolitical events”. This particularly applies to the groceries category (64 percent) and apparel (50 percent).

More Ramadan shopping is being done online each year, either through e-commerce or, increasingly, directly through social apps. X (previously Twitter) says that 83 percent of consumers are open to trying new brands and products in Ramadan, and TGM, found that 74 percent of Muslim consumers think of social media as a central resource for Ramadan shopping.

Not only do media consumption habits change, but attitudes can as well. 

In a world of dwindling concentration spans, consumers are more open to long-form marketing, particularly digital video, during Ramadan. And it is a boom time for influencers: brands can use social media ambassadors to make deeper connections and focus more on brand values.

The imagery itself of Ramadan is slower to change than the strategies of marketers and the habits of consumers. While it can be comforting to see familiar symbols each year, the profusion of dates, crescent moons and lamps is perhaps too predictable and often a sign of fast-fix Ramadan-washing. Some things don’t change.

Austyn Allison is an editorial consultant and journalist who has covered Middle East advertising since 2007

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