Sunday, September 5, 2010

Ramazan- Eat, Sleep, Pray...Buy!

The countdown has begun as Muslims all over the world enter the last round of fasts. This month has been pretty steep for us in Pakistan; a shocking plane crash, terrible floods, sectarian & targeted killing and of course, the cricket betting scandal. This Ramazan has been one big test for us as a nation and whether we have cleared it, or not, is still a question mark.

Ramazan is the one month when all of us, all over the country, share (more or less) the same routine (not that this similarity of schedules unites us or anything, unfortunately!) and the same (almost) buying habits.

Think about it. You get up for sehri and have something to eat, which can range from anything from a cereal and toast to naan and nihari. The next time you eat is in the evening, just like everyone you know, and the menu comprises of a lot of snacks which are, maybe, followed by dinner. As you get into the habit of fasting, you seek variety and decide to check out your favourite restaurant for iftari or maybe meet up with friends a little late for a cup of coffee (socializing without food is so boring!).

Now, let’s put brands into this picture. Everything you do all day involves brands and even though you only eat twice a day during this one month, you end up spending more money on groceries than you do otherwise. We tend to become more vulnerable during Ramazan; physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Brands make use of all the weaknesses of consumers to their advantage. Over the past few years, most brands have realized that targeting the emotions and spiritual side of consumers equals more sales. It all started, once upon a time, with Olper’s Ramazan ad campaign. This one ad changed the way people viewed advertisements. The ad generated immense buzz and along with the Ramazan special packaging and the mobile vans (which were a new concept then), Olper’s scored a big hit with its consumers. Milk, though consumed at both sehri and iftar, was a product consumers never associated with Ramzan. But Olper’s changed that view with their positioning (As baba Al-Reis has said, ‘positioning is not what you do to the product but what you do to the mind of the prospect’) and since its launch, every year consumers eagerly await the Olper’s Ramazan campaign.

The funny thing is that Rooh-Afza, a brand which everyone associates with Ramazan, never really associated itself with the holy month. A brand which we ignore all year round suddenly becomes an absolute essential at iftar! And yet, the brand has never done any strong activity to promote this association. On the other hand, Coca Cola is actively promoting itself with Ramazan and trying to make a place for itself on the table at iftar. Instead of going through the basic price cut route (like Pepsi; as if Rs. 5/- will make Pepsi desirable!), they’ve gone through the emotional route which gels in well with their overall campaign, ‘Open happiness’.

A category which keeps a low profile during Ramazan, yet is consumed greedily (by some of us) at sehri and iftar, is tea! Tea brands have not really focused on creating an emotional bond with consumers during Ramazan, a major reason being the negligible increase in tea consumption. Most of the tea we consume is during working hours and if we minus the three (or more) cups we drink during the day, we’re only left with two. And some light tea drinkers minus tea from their menu completely since there are so many other beverages that must be consumed also.  

But the one item on the grocery list which actually doubles in consumption, what with all those fried goodies at iftar, is cooking oil. For cooking oil brands, Ramazan is very important. They often plan consumer promotions a little before Ramazan, introduce price cuts and make sure their availability is 100%. This year,Mezan stood out strongly with their celebrity endorsement campaign featuring Aamir Liaquat and special Ramazan packaging. Dalda, and their positioning of ‘Mamta’ (motherhood), blends in perfectly with Ramazan and it also comes out very strongly in their Ramazan campaign.The one thing that almost all oil brands do is offer consumer promotions which include either a price discount or a free packet of chat masala with the oil. Chat masala, like Rooh-Afza, is a very Ramazan specific product. The sales of chat masala are very sluggish throughout the year and unless the sales team gets rid of the bulk of the product during Ramazan, they have a difficult task ahead for the rest of the year to dispose it off.

Other brands have jumped on the band wagon also. It seems that everyone wants a piece from the emotional and spiritual consumer pie. Telecom companies have a bundle of offers; special call rates between sehri and iftar, prayer alerts, special religious wall papers, hadith and Quranic verses through sms – you name it, they have it for you. I receive the most sms from Mobilink everyday trying to convince me to have a more fulfilling Ramazan by subscribing to one of their ‘offers’. If only they knew how much I hate their brand (and still own it! I’m not tearing my hair out this time. Why should I lose my hair over Mobilink!). Others, like Unilever, try and reach out to their consumer via an indirect route. This Ramazan, as I discovered on spending a certain amount at Park Towers, you are entitled to a gift bag which contains numerous Unilever goodies. You feel good about getting some free stuff, they make you sample their products and in most cases, grab you as a customer. End result: you feel the giant multinational cares for you during this holy month!

The brands which top the list when it comes to exploiting consumer vulnerability during Ramazan are our television channels. Every other channel has a special sehri and iftar transmission which are, more or less, the same. Everyone wants to attain the status that Aamir Liaquat had achieved these past few years during Ramazan. In fact, Aamir Liaquat was like Rooh-Afza; forgotten the year round and re-surfacing in Ramazan (this year, with the change of channel, he seems to have lost his earlier emotional appeal). In Ramazan our television channels offer a similar mixed bag of software; cooking shows, religious programs featuring scholars, and programs featuring actors, singers, and hosts trying to sound religious. No wonder people spend more time praying, there’s not much to distract them on television!

Having said all that, what does Ramazan mean to us? Do we consider it as a month which provides us an opportunity to spend some quality time with God? Or do we just take it like any other month of working and socializing, with a slight change in schedule? Have we equated Ramazan with consumerism along with its other attributes? It seems that we are more concerned about what we eat at iftar, how many iftar parties we go to, the various restaurants which we check out for iftar, the clothes & accessories we buy for Eid and how to make up lost sleep. We seem to have forgotten, especially if we look at the current situation of our country, the big picture of Ramazan. It is a month of practicing patience and being compassionate but as Pakistanis, we seem to have removed these two words from our dictionary and thus, from Ramazan.

Sleep, eat, pray and buy in Ramazan but also give, forgive, count your blessings and spend time with loved ones. Make most of these last few days of Ramazan – who knows what life has in store for us next year.

Photographs: Google Images