Breaking the surface, by TBWA\RAAD’s Maian Alken

There’s a lot more depth to Ramadan than creative clichés, writes TBWA\RAAD’s Maian Alken. It’s time to dive deep into the Holy Month.

By Maian Alken, associate creative director, TBWA\RAAD

When it comes to advertising during Ramadan, also known as the Middle East’s Super Bowl, it’s sometimes easier to choose the safe, comforting, and tame haven that is the surface. After all, what’s not to like about delicious cheese sambousas en masse? Lanterns and crescents galore? Singing children as far as the ear can hear?

It’s a place that makes you smile, makes you feel good and makes you feel safe. It’s also the culprit behind those dreaded jingle earworms. But as any experienced creative with bags under their eyes and awards under their belt will assure you, safe – in the context of advertising – is the antithesis of good. The archenemy of the memorable. The nemesis of anything you’d like your name attached to.

In short, safe will be forgotten before the next commercial break. Drowned out by all the other ‘safes’ competing for your divided attention.

Just as is the case with the ocean, staying on the surface of Ramadan makes us miss out on the infinite beauty of the immense world that lies beneath it. Similar to the mesmerising allure of marine life, the undercurrent of Ramadan is a striking place that doesn’t get visited often, but that has the power to leave a mark on anyone who has dared to jump into it.

This is why it’s disheartening to watch Ramadan sometimes being reduced to nothing more than pomp and circumstance around the Iftar table. Today’s audience, no matter its creed or walk of life, deserves to be shown a new point of view. An honest point of view. A real point of view. One that shines a light on the genuine intentions of a month that is not only holy but transformative.

Ramadan is so much more than the eye can see and the finger can scroll through. Its purpose and role transcend those of a yearly cultural occasion or a season. It goes way beyond not being allowed to eat for a certain number of hours. And, yes, it even goes beyond not drinking water in severe heat. Its ambition eclipses the beloved crescents we see on YouTube pre-rolls, Insta Stories and TVs across the screen landscape.

If we allow it, Ramadan can be a journey to the soul, a vehicle that takes us to our best selves, and a time machine that teleports us to the world the way it should be – where people are always understanding and empathetic, where neighbours volunteer to help each other out, where co-workers are considerate of each other’s circumstances, where forgiveness is practised every minute of the day, where humility, compassion and gratitude turn from momentary feelings to a nationwide language.

You see, Ramadan isn’t just a month. It’s a state of mind. It’s an attitude. One that can be embraced by anyone. Its purpose is to remind us of the true values of Islam – and humanity for that matter. If we allow it to, Ramadan can serve as a reflection point. A New Year’s resolution of sorts that invites practising and non-practising people alike to pledge a return to the truest form of humanity. To answer a call to a deeper, more purposeful level of being, of living.

But besides being a catalyst for good and rallying the best within us, the month also serves as a chance for brands to address the proverbial elephant in the room: the misconstrued picture of Ramadan in the West.

While the mandated abstinence from food and drink can sometimes be misunderstood as an unjust – even reprehensible – nuisance, the objective of fasting is often questioned and portrayed as nothing more than the mere semblance of piety. And usually, that’s all the non-fasting community can see. The reason is the scarcity of a better message. A real message. Cue the communication folks. This is our chance to put the metamorphic power of Ramadan on display.

So here’s an appeal to all the brands out there: You’ve already dipped your toes into the vast ocean of beauty that is Ramadan. Now dare to take the plunge. Put on your snorkelling masks, oxygen tanks, diving suits and whatever you fancy and dive deep into the pure essence of the Holy Month.