Rahul Sachitanand
Mar 28, 2022

Hijrah movement: Brands court newly conservative consumers

The pandemic has given more momentum to a movement that sees young people rediscovering their faith, and brands are rushing to capitalise. But they need to be seen as authentic rather than opportunistic to really connect.

Hijrah movement: Brands court newly conservative consumers

Brands and companies including Unilever, Wipro, Pureline and Kahf have launched products and campaigns to cater to consumers who’ve rediscovered their faith during the pandemic. This is driving growth in what is termed as Hijrah in markets including Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and  Bangladesh. 

Hijrah, or Hijra, a term that refers to a journey Muhammad and his followers took from Mecca to Medina, has in recent years been applied to a movement that encourages Muslims, particularly young people, to become better individuals by increasing their obedience to religious guidelines. This piety movement is triggering a wave of new spending in categories including apparel (with the rise of modestwear), consumer goods, finance and personal care and cosmetics. It is also challenging marketers to think of new ways of tapping this opportunity.

“In Malaysia, brands, agencies and marketers have mindfully catered to this exponentially growing market over a number of years by launching specialist products directly targeting these consumers,” Didi Pirinyuang, executive creative director at Ensemble Worldwide, tells Campaign Asia-Pacific. “In their marketing, brands are careful to show that although the women have chosen the spiritual, modest way of dress, they are not defined by their choice and are as empowered and 'free' as others who are not as spiritually anchored.” An example of this is Safi (and all its sub-brands) under Wipro-Unza, a skincare and toiletries brand entirely focused on catering to young Muslim women, with lines of products to serve them at every step of their Hijrah.

Wipro is not the only company or brand to have chased after this opportunity. Other examples include Nameera from Unilever, with its 'Beauty is Fitrah' tagline, Pepsodent, and Pureline Hijab Fresh body lotion. Kahf Face Wash for men also addresses this market with its latest campaign.

“As an agency leader, what I face is trying to help international brands portray the culture of Hijrah,” says Anish Daryani, founder and president director of M&C Saatchi Indonesia. “Portrayal of Hijrah directly or subliminally makes our brands likeable and desirable. That's one way to tell the aspiring Indonesian, 'This brand is for me'."

While a conservative bent and Hijrah aren’t new—people have been advocating this lifestyle from the '90s, led by the likes of Gito Rollies (in 1997) or Sakti "Sheila On 7" (2004)—this iteration is now seen as being about discovering a spiritual anchor rather than just a traditional religious choice. With social media and the attendant content boom driving growth and awareness, there’s been a surge in the number of adopters recently. The hashtag #Hijrah on Instagram has over 13 million posts. More than 400,000 people follow a Hijrah Indonesia page on Facebook.

This new wave of Hijrah is different from being a purely religious movement, or even being bracketed as a sect, because it doesn’t have one leader preaching its benefits. Instead, the movement is more decentralised, with no leader, coordinator, or person in charge of ensuring the movement's success. The Hijrah is carried out on a local scale and its development is spread across many communities of different sizes.

Influence is a key driver. In Malaysia, several KOLs and celebs have adopted Hijrah, including Rizalman, a well-known fashion designer/entrepreneur. His Hijrah story was popular amongst Malaysians when he conducted a Quran recital lesson, drawing a large crowd.

Rather than lumping all Hijrah adoptees into one audience labelled as conservative, Syahriza Badron, general manager at FCB in Malaysia, contends that marketers’ approach needs to be more nuanced.

“They [the conservative audience] are on the lookout for brands that share their ideals and understand their values,” she says. “This manifests as a strong desire to consume products/media that are reflective of their identity.” This nuance is reflected in the rise of modest fashion, halal beauty (including halal nail polish), halal cuisine, halal travel and even a halal dating app. More precise audience targeting, combined with the appropriate messaging and visualisation also helps, she adds.

Syahriza Badron, FCB

Ruby Sudoyo, chief strategy officer at Ogilvy Indonesia, says there is a “a huge opportunity” for marketers as the newly devoted Muslims seek ways to live a life faithful to Islamic values in a modern world. “Any brands and innovation that can support them to stay true to the teachings would be appreciated,” she says.

Brand behaviour must be reflected in tonality. For example, offering a 2.5% zakat or donation to the needy out of every pack purchased would be an appreciated tactic. “The devoted Muslim seeks brands that are aligned to their values and are sincere/authentic in intention and product delivery,” Sudoyo adds.

The challenge and opportunity for brands in this market is to not bucket campaigns purely for a conservative audience. “To begin, Hijrah is no longer considered conservative,” says Badron of FCB. “Today, we have normalized Hijrah—it is no longer viewed as a radical, ultra-conservative choice. It’s more acceptable.” New brands have emerged to tap into the rising devoted Muslims: fintech lending platform Alami and new Syariah banks such as Jago Syariah and Aladin.

Despite this opportunity, the challenge for marketers is to be viewed as authentic, rather than opportunistic.

One important mistake, for instance, would be viewing hijab-wearers as reserved, timid, submissive, and passive. “They are modern and accomplished women who are bold, adventurous and self-assured,” Badron contends. “They resented the fact that their headscarf was seen as the primary factor in determining how people viewed them. Their identity is not labelled by the hijab. Therefore, rather than creating an ad demonstrating their oppression, celebrate them instead.” Case in point: Safi Shayla, a shampoo for hijab wearers.

Despite the progress made by some brands and marketers, there may be some way to go before they perfect their strategy for this segment. “The positive is that consumers have more choice and variety,” Pirinyuang of Ensemble says. “But on the downside, it feels like brands are capitalising and profiteering on what is essentially a personal spiritual journey. Hence it is a fine line for brands to maintain being authentic in this space.”

At the end of the day campaigns targeted at this audience have to be more than just changing appearances. “We must note that hijrah is beyond changing appearance," says Ogilvy's Sudoyo. "It is about adopting a more religious lifestyle—joining religious communities, halal conscious, discarding western values. Conservatives and traditionalists are purely devoted. They want to live in a way that is pure to the teaching, not accepting any grey areas.”

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