Letter from Dubai: Ramadan

Letter from Dubai

The holy month of Ramadan, the ninth in the Islamic calendar, has an outsized impact on the fortunes of the media and advertising industries in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa). Ramadan is the month when the faithful fast from dawn to dusk; it is also a month when the television industry brings out its most lavishly produced serials. It is a month dedicated to devotion and prayer; it is also a month when the consumption of media soars and advertising rates spike, particularly on television.

Media professionals often refer to Ramadan as a month long Super Bowl. The metaphor is somewhat inaccurate because Ramadan has an impact on consumption, shopping, brands, advertising and media in ways that the Super Bowl cannot hope to rival.

The fast can last for as long as 16 hours, particularly in years when Ramadan falls in the summer months. Muslims stay awake from the pre-dawn Suhoor meal till late into the night. In the Arabian Gulf, restaurants and coffee shops open only in the evening and offices shut by mid afternoon. Most of the time is spent with the family and after the breaking of the fast at dusk, everyone gathers around the television.

TV viewership increase by almost 25% across the region. For the broadcast industry, it is a once-in-a-year opportunity to attract audiences, brands and advertising dollars with new, scripted content. Nearly 75% of the line up on TV channels is scripted and produced especially for Ramadan. Religious programming, local dramas, thrillers and comedies are among the favorites.

According to the MBC Group, the leading regional satellite channels network, 30% of their production investment happens during the month of Ramadan and 15% to 18% of their annual revenue comes in this month.

The share of audience peaks in the evening, from 7pm to 10pm, and the advertising rates are nearly double compared to other months.

Digital and social media platforms are also becoming increasingly popular - coming at the expense of print media. By some estimates, print media spends declined by a quarter during Ramadan 2017 (compared to the previous year).

According to a Google study during Ramadan people watch more video, perform more searches and consume more entertainment than ever before, and this goes up year after year. Searches for promotions, offers and discounts double during Ramadan compared to other months. Social media use increases by nearly 30% during Ramadan. A Facebook study reveals that 86% of all Facebook users in the region, 244 million people, celebrated Ramadan on Facebook.  

Ramadan has a pronounced effect on sales in many categories, including many kinds of food products. While one would expect the sale of food products to come down in a month of fasting, the reality is quite different.  For some food and related brands, Ramadan is literally a do-or-die month. Vimto, a popular beverage first manufactured in the UK, gets 75% of its annual sales in the region during Ramadan. Tang and Quaker Oats are estimated to get nearly half their annual sale in Ramadan.

For Marketers in the MENA region, Ramadan is an opportunity that requires a strategy tailored to the themes of Ramadan, themes of giving, devotion, kindness and festivity. Ramadan can pay huge dividends if the strategy is true to the character of the brand and to the unique requirements of the faithful in what is arguably the most important month in the Islamic calendar.

By Rahul Kalia, Partner at The Observatory International, MENA, based in Dubai.