Memorable or merely correct? By VMLY&R Commerce’s Bilal Rachman

Senior planner at VMLY&R Commerce Bilal Rachman looks at Ramadan clichés, when we need them and when we should think bigger.

By Bilal Rachman, senior planner at VMLY&R Commerce.

Ramadan, the time of the year when marketers bring out the big guns when every brand borrows from age-old Ramadan narratives and themes established decades prior, a time when our screens are riddled with clichés and traditions we’ve probably already heard or seen before. Was that tear-jerking ad about a mother’s dedication from this year or last year? Which brand made that generosity campaign again? Who was it that wanted to ‘elevate’ my Iftar dinner moments? Was it tea? Biscuits? Perhaps ready-made meals?

Despite the fact that many of us today may consider ourselves as living in an age where ‘change is the only constant’, Ramadan remains the one time of the year we unapologetically return to traditions, conventions and clichés, even for brands.

And can you really blame us for doing so? Considering the long track record of relative commercial success and safety that returning to conventions and clichés has afforded brands, doing so seems not only to guarantee emotional connection but also to afford us a way to mitigate risk in one of the biggest advertising seasons in the region.

On the other hand, sure these traditions may sometimes lead many into the trap of creating ‘wallpaper’ campaigns, but does this mean that we should opt for abandoning our Ramadan roots? In our pursuit of standing out and differentiating in the most cluttered of months, it’s easy to sometimes forget that these clichés and traditions exist for a reason. They give us a sense of identity, strengthen our roots to culture and family, remind us of what really matters. Most importantly, many of them remain relevant and ring true even today.

As Ramadan approaches, I often find myself torn between a part of me that believes that some clichés and traditions should never be forgotten, while the other wishes brands would stop showing or telling me what I already know. The solution? No one can say for sure, but for now I’m struggling with the concept of a middle ground.

What if, rather than radically breaking away from the traditions, clichés and emotions that are near and dear to our Ramadan shoppers, we opted for an approach that respects them as foundations that are meant to be preserved but also built upon. Whilst there may be many ways to achieve this, there are a couple of guiding questions and thoughts I often find myself discussing extensively:

1. What if clichés or traditions exist to be respected but rarely regurgitated?

As a consumer, nothing bores me more than hearing the same things over and over again. After years of being exposed to a multitude of Ramadan advertising and experiences, most will notice when brands focus on appealing solely through the lowest common denominator and offer surface-level relevance just to ride that hype train. Despite the fact that brands can never go wrong, even when communicating these Ramadan clichés and conventions at face value, years of hearing the same old story has lead me to yearn for a genuine take on these age-old themes, one that allows me to see Ramadan from a different perspective. No one likes
to hear the same joke or story twice, so why should Ramadan be an exception?

2. As Ramadan continues to evolve in ways big and small, why shouldn’t we?

Whilst the core of Ramadan remains the same, innovation, modernisation and cultural evolution have ensured that how we experience and enjoy it has not. Whilst it may be easy to re-use that Ramadan template or stick to conventions when thinking of our shoppers’ journeys and experiences, what if, as our target evolves, so does the way we approach our paths to purchase? Whilst this may be an exercise many of us are well accustomed to in past pandemic years, what if we continued to do so regardless of force majeures? As every Ramadan is unique, why shouldn’t our journeys be? While major changes would rarely be required every year, perhaps a minor tweak here and there is all it takes to make Ramadan more meaningful for both shoppers and brands.

3. What if just storytelling is no longer enough?

These days, with the sheer amount of stories brands churn out during Ramadan and the narratives themselves facing the risk of sounding familiar or repetitive, purely storytelling can more often than not become a ‘meh’ point for me. For me, Ramadan can often feel like a season where everyone seems to have a story to tell but rarely invites me to live it with them. Whilst talking the talk is imperative, walking the walk is what I believe distinguishes the memorable from the meh. What if today it’s not just about telling a good story, but rather about finding new ways shoppers can get more value out of engaging with brands and products through our stories, whether that is at the point of purchase or beyond? With so many brands vying for our eyes and ears, oftentimes it’s the moments when brands invite us to share an experience that sticks out most when recalling Ramadans past.