A Ramadan Apart by Initiative’s Ali Berjawi

by Ali Berjawi, Director, Client Advice at Initiative

As Ramadan quickly approaches, the wide range of feelings that the holy month brings out will also come into sharp focus. From the anticipation of prayer and the opportunity to reflect to the anxiety around managing daily eating habits and behavioural change… all these emotions will be rising quickly.

Yet Ramadan will have a distinctly different taste to it this year.

Why so different?

Let us start with what defines the holy month: at its core, Ramadan is about worship, devotion, self-reflection, giving back to society and getting closer to your loved ones. From the perspective of activities it’s a time for family gatherings, heading to the mosque for prayers, and exploring the variety of food and activity options in the evenings after the iftar meal.

Ramadan forces shifts in routine and forces us to swiftly adapt to a new set of behaviours – if only for a month; and this is especially true in the GCC. For those fasting, the shift is even more intense, as we need to re-set our minds, bodies and souls to daytime fasting.

What makes this year different is the unwelcome guest at the table – COVID-19. It is not only limiting our mobility, but also dictating unprecedented new norms that will definitely change our perspective towards this year’s holy month. The current restrictions will alter how we socialize during Ramadan, challenge our customs and traditions, and disrupt the way we consume content and media.

Social Gatherings

One of the most noticeable and apparent changes this Ramadan will be the replacement of social gatherings by social distancing. The usual extended family Iftars and gatherings of friends will be nothing more than a memory.

For some, Iftar will be a solo experience lacking the traditional feeling of togetherness and companionship.

For others – perhaps families who will have been confined to their homes for over a month by that point – stresses could start to take their toll. Home schooling, never-ending house chores, working from home, and entertaining kids indoors…all these challenges will soon be made more difficult by feelings of hunger through the day.

This will create a new reality that many of us will never have experienced. Juggling a busy social calendar full of tent visits for Iftars or Suhoors will be cherished memories and how we adapt to these changes as a collective society remains to be seen.

Customs and Traditions

Customs and traditions also make Ramadan what it is. Yet this Ramadan, attending the nightly prayers – taraweeh – is likely to be an impossible dream; there is the chance they will be replaced by live streaming from a mosque but this will disrupt many set routines in many households.

It’s also common for people to give back to society during Ramadan, whether it is ‘zakat’ or distributing Iftar for the less privileged; this is another tradition that will prove challenging.

Finally, preparations for Eid will also be completely disrupted this year including the anticipation, shopping, and planning that accompanies the end of the month. Whether it involves family and friend visits, holiday travel for the Eid break or simply spending it around the city, this year Eid is likely to have a gloomier feel, not necessarily in terms of the spiritual and religious value but certainly in terms of customs and traditions. After a month of fasting, Eid is both an enjoyable break and a necessary celebration. We will need to adapt our expectation for subdued celebrations this year.

Content and Media Consumption

Ramadan is the biggest season of the year for content production in general, and TV specifically.

This is accompanied by an increase in TV viewership of at least 5% and online video consumption by 26% (according to IPSOS & Shahid figures for 2019); and binge watching is more common than at any other time of the year.

This year the Ramadan boost could be the second part of a double hit as it will have been preceded the increase in viewership from the lockdown.

TV viewership by end of March 2020 has risen by over 20% already, and this is expected to skyrocket across linear and non-linear TV. In previous years, there has been an abundance of new content during Ramadan, an endless array of series and programs catering to the various tastes of audiences. However, this year, production has faced delays and cancellations due to the restrictions in movement of production crews and actors. Recently MBC Group cancelled an entire channel due to delays in production of two flagship Lebanese series.

Yet whilst uncertainty is being experienced amongst many stations and production houses, there will still be a wide range of series and programs to choose from, the only difference is that one might need to widen the channel selection and not rely on the same channels as previous years.

Marketers, media owners and agencies are normally scrambling to secure budget and create appealing content at this time of year. Yet this year, we may miss many of the beloved brands that accompany us during the holy month – from the Vimto and Tang ads, to the themed long-form videos from telcos and other brands; not to mention the inspirational ads for Eid.

The next few weeks will reveal whether TV ad slots will remain hollow, or be filled with positive, emotional and aspirational content from advertisers.

Ultimately, we must hope that a Ramadan miracle arrives and we’re able to return to our relatively simpler Ramadan problems of ad clutter and packed schedules. Whatever form of Ramadan we have, we should collectively work at making it a special one despite being apart.