Rahul Sachitanand
Apr 27, 2020

During Ramadan, brands shelve expansive campaigns in favour of toned-down purposeful DIY work

Brands find innovative ways to stay connected with distant consumers, addressing home-bound Muslims amidst pandemic.

During Ramadan, brands shelve expansive campaigns in favour of toned-down purposeful DIY work

For the past three or four months, the marketing team at Axis, an Indonesian mobile services brand, had been working under the hood to launch a new brand campaign to co-incide with the holy month of Ramadan. However, barely a fortnight before it was due to launch, the country's government tightened already strict lockdown rules in the country, compelled the provider to hurriedly--and remotely--recast and reshoot the campaign to keep new consumer sentiments in mind. 

In barely 10 days, the team at Axis and M&C Saatchi, completely redid the campaign to focus on connecting consumers who were stuck at home, desperately missing the rush of shopping and celebrating the most important festival of the year with friends and family.

Instead, this year, providers like Axis have had to quickly rejig their campaigns to focus on cheering these otherwise gregarious people, corralled into a far more sombre and secluded celebration. Themed kompak walau berjarak (united in separation), Axis's quickly redone campaign sought to soothe these consumers' concerns.  

Traditionally, marketers in Muslim-dominated markets such as Indonesia and Malaysia have focused their budgets on spendthrift consumers at this time. As we reported earlier, citing data from data tracker ADA, there are 240 million Muslims in southeast Asia and 600 million in south Asia, representing a $2.2 trillion dollar market that brands would traditionally be foolish to ignore during and after their holy month of Ramadan. 

There's nothing usual about 2020. As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept across these markets, many of these truisms have been trashed and brands and marketers have had to think on their feet to stay relevant. Travel to and within countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore has been severely constricted, as governments have sought to slow the pandemic. 


As brands rush to recast their plans, they are having to not just plot their marketing differently, but also learn to do more with less. For example, extravagant campaigns with a significant chunk of out of home plans are being shelved in favour of more digital initiatives, with a focus on building and maintaining a strong connect with consumers. New campaigns are being conceptualised and executed, mostly remotely to manage in these challenging times. 

"The Ramadan season is the most important time of the year for many of these brands and accounts for 40% to half of their annual business," says Anish Daryani, founding partner and president, M&C Saatchi Indonesia. "With most consumers stuck at home, brands have had to rethink everything about the most important month of the year." 

As these brands have had second thoughts about their plans, marketers have realised that for 2020 Ramadan, at least, the old way won't work. For example, ride-hailing and delivery brand Grab found that it had to rapidly rethink its marketing plans as the pandemic swept across Asia and country after country tightened lockdown norms. In Indonesia, for example, the brand had more festive plans, but had to change tack rapidly faced with the onset and spread of COVID-19. 

In Indonesia, Grab had originally planned a more celebratory campaign, but faced with a new normal, had to rethink plans. Its new campaign, conceptualised and shot in a matter of days with a tagline Grab Siap Antar Ramadanmu (Your Ramadan, delivered by Grab frontliners), is a a stay at home music video shot entirely at artistes' homes, using DIY props, puppets and miniature cardboard sets, with lyrics and music composed by employees. 

Changed approach

Across the board, brands are repurposing their focus. "During these difficult times, Axiata needed to review its brand’s relevance in the society," Randu Zulmi, head of marketing communications at Axis."We believe it’s important to understand the changing needs and habits of our consumers and their emotional state of mind. We hope the campaign will bring Indonesians closer in their fight against this pandemic.” Like many other brands and agencies that have had to work remotely, this campaign also followed this path. From concept to production and release – in less than two weeks--and entirely remotely. 

Other brands have also tweaked their plans to stay connected to consumers. For example, in Malaysia, fast food brand KFC, which paused its finger licking campaign in March this year in countries such as the UK, has taken a markedly different path in Malaysia. It has gone from running campaigns to attract throngs of diners, to devising the #kepci plan on social media to keep its home-bound customers supplied with an assortment of easy recipes. 

"The prospect of joining the Tarawih prayers and the Sahur (the meal consumed early in the morning by Muslims, often socially, before fasting all day) together ... is very slim for much of the population in Malaysia," says veteran marketer David Mayo, who has extensive experience in the region and has been WPP's Malaysia country manager. "I believe the order will help many brands re-focus on the meaning and significance of Ramadan. And within this, brands are going to need to dig very deep in order to become a part of something that promises to be altogether more personal and introspective this year."

Data tracker ADA has even categorised these at-home consumers into five distinct segments and contends that marketers need to weave distinct strategies for each of them. In its latest study on Ramadan, ADA says that these categories are: 

  • The Bored Homebody started killing time with entertainment and gaming while staying at home.
  • The Adaptive Shopper has switched to new ways to procure what they need.
  • The Sad and Confused shows an overall decrease in activity particularly in entertainment apps.
  • The Social Citizen seeks information from social and news sources and then reshare what they hear within their social circles.
  • The Brave One represent front liners and essential industry workers that need to carry on as usual for society to function.

Confined to their homes, online shopping transactions and browsing activities have been increasing significantly during Ramadan every year, as those observing look forward to the celebration of Hari Raya Aidilfitri and begin to shop for occasion wear for open house events, says Giulio Xiloyannis, Chief Commercial Officer, Zalora.

"While our modest wear collection and 'Zaloraya' designer campaigns are well received, with lockdowns set in place across the region and Muslim-majority countries such as Malaysia looking to defer public holidays for the Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebration to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, we anticipate that consumers will prioritise shopping for items they need the most during this social distancing economy instead," he adds. 

To keep pace with these changes, Zalora recently launched the essentials category on its website and mobile app, "We have also been collaborating with our brand partners to expand the assortment of the most relevant products in categories that recorded an increase in consumer spend – these include items in sports, loungewear and home essential categories," Xiloyannis explains. 

Purpose over profit

Meawhile, to help brands mitigate the impact the COVID-19 pandemic, Zalora will soon be releasing a COVID-19 sales dashboard through its recently launched 'Trender' data-solutions service, which will let brands make more informed decisions across merchandising, design and marketing, especially following the sudden shifts in supply chains and inventories. 

Besides a core focus on business, brands are also being compelled to align themselves more closely with a stressed community and address requirements which are very specific to this festive season. For example, the practice of donating to the needy or Zakkat, is done by usually giving money or gifts in kind to a local mosque who in turn pass it on. 

However, with mosque services shut or severely curtailed, a raft of brands have queued up to offer online alternatives to funnel this charity to the right sources. For instance, AirAsia.com has launched “Give With Ikhlas,” a public digital donation initiative that offers a platform for individuals or organisations to meet their charitable obligations during Ramadan.

This donation initiative is carried out in collaboration with charity organisation Yayasan Amanah Assofwah Almalikiyyah, which will use the funds to feed the less fortunate and frontliners whilst supporting local businesses during Ramadan. This campaign will start from 20 April until 22 May 2020.

“We aim to provide basic necessities to 5,000 families and iftar meals to at least 20,000 individuals during the month of Ramadan. We will be purchasing supplies from at least 100 local SME merchants in order to support their livelihood and businesses in this challenging period," says Ikhlas Kamarudin, Head of Givewith.Ikhlas.com

Elsewhere, aware that in traditionally-offline economies, places such as Raya Bazaars, are being hit hard, with hundreds of SMEs relying on this period to gain much needed access to demand, Zalora has used its #ZALORACares initiative to help these merchants through ZALORA’s eBazaar page, which is now live and has dozens of new SMEs being added to it daily.

Several others have also lined up similar initiatives including Maybank Islamic, which is partnering with Islamic Relief Malaysia and Samrah Club Singapore to send grocery shopping vouchers worth a total of S$10,000 to 80 low-income families. This is part of the group-wide Regional Ramadhan Relief (RRR) programme. RRR is Maybank Group Islamic Banking’s flagship corporate responsibility programme using Zakat funds (Alms tax) which aims at distributing food supplies to the underprivileged for the fasting month.

As the Muslim world wends its way through a difficult Ramadan, brands are taking note of their challenges and trying to shift their focus--and their purpose--to manage in these challenging times. 

Campaign Asia

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