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Rethinking Ramadan: Food, Fitness and Social Connections


We Are Social’s Mobbie Nazir and Socialize’s Akanksha Goel discuss trends and inspiration from Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia

Rethinking Ramadan: Food, Fitness and Social Connections
Mobbie Nazir, Chief Strategy Officer of We Are Social and Akanksha Goel, MD of Socialize, hosted an event this week called ‘Rethinking Ramadan’, talking about the opportunities for brands and the conversations on this subject taking place online at the moment.

Together they covered three key areas, food, fitness and social connections, with their insights drawn from the listening they’ve been doing online, examples of recent campaigns aimed at Muslims during Ramadan, and wider research into consumer behaviours during the month.

Mobbie kicked off the event with a brief explanation of the role of Ramadan and what Muslims do during this holy month, highlighting the fact that it is not just about fasting but is also a time for introspection and thinking about what’s important in life.

Even with Covid impacting how people observe and celebrate at this time, “there are opportunities for brands to get involved, this is a really massive space,” Mobbie said. She highlighted stats from the UK showing the Muslim community spends £20.5bn a year, and there’s no other time in the year for the Muslim community with a higher purchasing drive than the month of Ramadan. 

This means that the opportunities for brands wanting to commit are huge – Mobbie gave the example of Vimto, and the fact that the brand is now so closely associated with Ramadan that there are stores who ration supplies in the run-up.

We Are Social has undertaken social listening to find out what’s being said about Ramadan at the moment. Looking at how conversations play in three key markets: UK, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, Mobbie said: “What we’ve found is that there are many similarities in behaviours and rituals across markets, particularly when it comes to how people are connecting.
Akanksha picked up the conversation, talking about food and iftar. While spending on food goes up by 50% during Ramadan there is a rise in food waste, making it the perfect opportunity to tackle this issue, Akanksha argued.

Which is why Socialize has created a campaign doing just this for its client General Mills, owner of the Mexican food brand Old El Paso. Akanksha admits that Old El Paso doesn’t have a natural role at the iftar table. “But what we’ve done is make the brand part of the conversation by showcasing how Old El Paso tortilla wraps can easily transform leftovers from one day into a new meal,” she said.

The Wrap It Up campaign is built around an app which lets people input the food they’ve got left over from iftar and gives them a recipe to use it up in return. If people share these recipes on social channels, the brand makes a donation to a local food bank – tying in with the charitable aspect of Ramadan.
Another opportunity cited by Akanksha is driven by Covid-19, which has seen many more people cooking meals at home. In Saudi Arabia, for example, 85.6% of Muslims are eating home-cooked meals every day compared to only 35.6% before the pandemic. Akanksha cited the example of Morrisons, the UK supermarket chain, introducing a Ramadan food essentials box last year which included staples and snacks to make it easier to break fast. “It’s an interesting way to tap into that changing consumer behaviour in a way that’s relevant to the times,” she said.

Fitness, possibly against expectation, presents another opportunity.

While traditionally Ramadan is a time where there are good reasons to focus less on exercise and more on spiritual issues, Mobbie said their research shows a shift in attitude. More people are exploring the idea that it is a time to excel in every way as espoused by trainers like Rehan Jalali, and adopting the thought that discipline doesn’t only include food but could also extend to exercise.

This creates a space for brands to enter the conversation in ways such as giving people tips on the best time to train, and the most suitable types of exercise when you’re fasting, Mobbie said. “Brands could also offer advice on not overeating and avoiding the dreaded IBS – Iftar Binge Syndrome for those who don’t know – where you eat all the food and fall asleep for the rest of the day,” she said.

But apart from a few examples, like Saudi Sports For All Federation’s Step Together event and fitness coach Nazia Khatun moving her live workout streams to midnight in the UK, Mobbie thinks it’s an undervalued realm. “We’ve found very few brands tapping into this space and it’s a real opportunity for brands to do something that stands out,” she said.

She acknowledged that this is likely down to brands being nervous, but revealed that the conversations We Are Social is seeing online suggests they shouldn’t be.

Akanksha said that the next area of conversion, family and connections, is also undervalued as an opportunity for brands to speak to Muslim audiences during Ramadan.

Covid has shifted the way families get together, Akanksha pointed out, it hasn’t ended it. “You can quarantine people, but not the spirit of Ramadan,” she said. It’s this truth that has inspired Socialize’s new ‘World’s Longest Iftar Table’ campaign for the Saudi Arabian FMCG brand Switz, whose products include samosa patti (sheets of dough to make samosas). “There’s a tradition to share pictures of the iftar table,” Akanksha explains. “But if you can’t show it off to your family and friends, you can share it in an app we’ve created and we’ll stitch them all together to show on the Switz Instagram channel.”

She also cited the McDonald’s iftar hourglass timer in Saudi Arabia, which counts down the minutes until fast can be broken, as another interesting way a brand is tapping into Ramadan. And she even mentioned how gaming – not traditionally an area where Ramadan has a big presence – is starting to become involved in connecting people as they break their fasts.

“An example is in Animal Crossing where the video game developer Rami Ismail created an iftar spot, replicating an experience that he wasn’t able to enjoy in real life,” Akankasha said.

But she made the point of highlighting an issue where brands could do more, which is with the disconnect between the exaggerated happiness portrayed in Ramadan-themed marketing and the loneliness many people are experiencing due to Covid. “Empathy and compassion are a key part of Ramadan but they should also be a part of brand communications,” she said.

This is a particular issue in 2021 because in the Middle East, Mental Health Awareness week falls straight after Ramadan. “Perhaps this is an opportunity for brands to help raise awareness,” she suggested.

As the event wrapped up, Mobbie highlighted the fact that marketing to the Muslim community shouldn’t begin and end with major religious events. Anyone wanting to find out more might be interested to read We Are Social’s blog post from another recent event which featured cultural strategy consultant Davina Rajoopillai talking about marketing to South Asian families in the UK.

You can watch the full Rethinking Ramadan event here and read more about the findings which inspired it on the We Are Social blog.

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