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The 'Unique Challenges' Brands and Creatives Are Facing In Pakistan during Ramadan 2021

London, UK
As Ramadan begins, LBB’s Natasha Patel speaks to creatives in Pakistan about communications during the holy month

This Ramadan is the second Muslims from around the world are observing during the Coronavirus pandemic. For many in Pakistan there is a little more known on what they can expect this year and an awareness of social distancing, restrictions and how to meet their families safely. However, observing Ramadan and preparing for Eid this year is still not without its challenges. 

As the country grapples with a surge in Covid cases, celebrating being together and breaking fast with family members is a far cry to what consumers will actually be doing this year. M&C Saatchi Islamabad’s CCO Shakeel Hasan believes that Pakistani’s hold this holy month “closer to their heart than any other”, and so this year working on advertising campaigns brings its own set of issues. “This Ramzan brings a unique challenge, since Pakistanis, by virtue of doing better than most nations, are probably blinded by the light as we find ourselves amidst an aggressive and lethal Covid-19 third wave.”

MullenLowe Rauf’s strategic planner Mahnoor Pirzada believes that in 2021 mindsets and practices are completely different, “therefore the advertising space has adapted to the new norms.” She explains that when the vaccination programme began rolling out there was a sense of change in the air: “People had anticipated that by the time Ramadan began, festivities would resume. The advertising space was in full preparation to create campaigns which highlighted this underlying buzz and excitement.” 

However, this was not to be and agency’s have had to pivot their messaging to reflect the times in a short amount of time. Httpool Pakistan’s senior advisor Badar Khushnood explains that instead, Ramadan has been the time for brands and advertisers to utilise the power of the internet. “Pakistan has seen an upsurge both in the adoption of connectivity and brands interest in leveraging digital media to reach their relevant audiences. The country reached 100 million broadband subscribers this month.

“In comparison with the last year, Ramadan spending, which was a little haphazard, since the Covid outbreak in 2020 was in March and after a month and a half Ramadan season started; brands were not too ready but 2021 Ramadan is more planned and organised. The charts for each category of digital spending are pretty much on the rise.”

With these digital campaigns comes, of course, a responsibility to ensure that messages convey the right message. BBDO Pakistan’s senior creative manager Fatima Ansari sheds light about what the country is like at present and while laws have been implemented to ensure masks and social distancing are adhered to, the result of this crackdown has seen jails overcrowded with cells of men tightly packed together – albeit with their masks on.

She also explains that this “busiest and happening” of all months has been met with retailers facing a 6pm close-of-business restriction which, as Badar also explains has boosted e-commerce and digital growth in the market.

Most interestingly is Fatima’s insights on viewers’ ‘Corona fatigue’. “The viewers have stopped responding to Covid-conscious communications hence the brands are moving back to pre-Covid times. There is shameless promotion of Eid collection launches and pre-booking sessions, the ad world is no longer just showing in-home scenarios but social situations as they used to be. It’s like they are turning a blind eye to all restrictions and moving consumers to more accessible routes of purchase without hinting at the reasons. 

“We might just experience a food-filled ad scene in Ramadan where people are at Iftar tables in groups as they used to because that’s beneficial for the brands after a year of conscious advertising and brand-building - but is it responsible?”

However, M&C Saatchi’s Shakeel believes that the advertising has taken on a new sense of responsibility to educate Pakistanis this festive period. “The role of advertising during this pandemic has not been ordinary by any means, the industry and the brands took the responsibility in not only educating the Pakistanis on the pandemic realities but to provide products and support to all Pakistanis. 

“Our content and communication have started to nurture hope, optimism, and togetherness with most communication geared towards a purpose and this is the silver lining in this pandemic for our industry, where we have evolved our messaging to be more purposeful, meaningful, and impactful.”

MullenLowe’s Mahnoor agrees with this and explains where messaging has been going in the lead up to the holy month: “As agency professionals we have had to work with our clients to pivot any seasonal messaging to focus on the underlying themes of the month: care, compassion, and kindness towards others. The intrinsic interpersonal values that are as much a part of the season as fasting itself. In addition to this, the message of “caution as compassion”, is very important this year, as we continue to focus on the health and safety of the nation…for it is only with caution and unity that we can face the ongoing challenges of the pandemic.”

She adds that at the moment, Eid will be subject to similar, if not the same, level of impact and the usual activities of meeting people, praying together and celebrating with relatives will be toned down greatly this year. There’s no doubt that vaccinations will impact this and as Fatima so succinctly puts it: “Given the stubborn nature of the Pakistanis who refuse to adapt to change, one can only hope that until Eid, there are more vaccines being administered, less stores being hogged, saner law implementation taking place to make the current lockdown situation effective and fruitful for Pakistan so the next Eid can be celebrated in a more positive light.”

It seems that brands and advertisers are already looking to an Eid to remember and while 2021 may be just that – for subdued celebrations - the way brands and creatives have pivoted their messages to reflect society leaves great hope for all of their unused ideas to come to the forefront in 2022.

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