The beauty of predictability, by Wunderman Thompson’s Dana Al Kutoubi

Yes, Ramadan habits are repetitive. But that doesn’t mean marketers can’t make the most of them if they do the right thing, says Wunderman Thompson’s Dana Al Kutoubi

By Dana Al Kutoubi, head of strategy KSA, Wunderman Thompson

Ramadan has always been predictable. The same clichéd ads, the smiling housewives, the shots of beautiful looking meals, the flood of new series and increase in TV watching (which MBC continues to dominate), the family gatherings, the 3 am Suhour meal… Even digital behaviours have become set in their ways during Ramadan, (such as increased YouTube consumption or the catch-up on Shahid). Despite the rapid changes we’ve seen as a result of Vision 2030 in the Kingdom, when it comes to Ramadan, as journalist Jean Baptiste Karr once said, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” (the more things change, the more they remain the same).

While for most of us this has become like an old record on repeat, in this predictability lies a great opportunity. When and where in the world is there a month that media habits are so well known, certain habits ingrained and consumers so open to brand messages? Such predictability enables brands to become more purpose-driven at a time when consumers are demanding more as the product and service are no longer enough for them to trust a brand. In fact, 89 per cent want the brand to have a purpose that is aligned to the social impact that they can make and 75 per cent of respondents become more interested in a brand when it shares their values.

Brands like Almarai, STC and Dominos are leading the way. Almarai has for the past few years used engaging content to drive home the message of food waste, encouraging the Saudi community (which wastes more than 4 million tonnes of food, at a value of SAR 4bn, each year) to reduce the amount of waste it produces. STC has supported small businesses through its InspireU incubator programme, providing them with the tools to progress and succeed. Last year, in line with the Kingdom’s vision, the telco introduced a promise and message of sustainability, highlighting the way we can all contribute to a better future. Dominos has introduced the Pizza for Good platform, engaging and enabling people to donate pizza to those in need for SAR 1.

So why aren’t more brands in Saudi doing the same, and why have we barely scratched the surface? Most of the communication we see falls short: some brands are heavily promotion-driven; others focus on creating entertaining content through songs or venture into humorous content. The majority verge on the superficial without much meaning, purpose or utility.

Perhaps it’s a reflection of the reality of the pressures of short-term sales or the fear that the return is not readily identifiable. No matter the reason, this mass predictability can help reduce these uncertainties and alleviate the pressures. It makes for relatively easier channel planning and engagement that is either or both virtual and physical. It facilitates experimentation, without the worries of unknown parameters. Finally, it makes the buy-in of stakeholders into such a proposition easier. Who wouldn’t want to be doing good in the month of good? Who would want to be criticised by the more demanding consumer for not doing enough?

Brands will ultimately have to embrace purpose in Ramadan or run the risk of losing relevance over time as their relationships with their customers become more tenuous. More importantly, the challenge is to drive consistency from year to year and not be tempted to leverage Ramadan just for the occasion. It’s not an end in itself, it’s a platform we can build on for the rest of the year for long-term equity without sacrificing short-term sales. Who said predictability can’t be inspiring if purposeful?