Why Does an Industry Focused on Cultural Moments Ignore Ramadan?

With $2.5B spent on holiday advertising in the U.S., 3.9M Muslim Americans see none of it—here's how to change that

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Like clockwork, every November our screens are flooded with Christmas ads. $2.5 billion is spent on holiday advertising in the U.S. alone, making Christmas and all its traditions a well-known household topic.

Advertising has the power to bring that level of understanding and cultural awareness to something, even if you don’t celebrate it. So why hasn’t American advertising done the same for the 3.9 million Muslims who observe Ramadan?

As a strategist, Muslim and skeptical Gen Zer, I have to question what’s happening here. For an industry that largely relies on cultural moments to connect with people, we tend to ignore an entire month enjoyed by millions of people.

On the other hand, the challenge is understandable—how does a brand market to a community that has notoriously been othered to death and stereotypically deemed as serious in nature?

Muslims have always been alienated in every sense of the word. The last few decades have been peppered with vignettes in film and media of only one type of Muslim. These misrepresentations have instilled fear in the lives of Muslims around the country. Constantly under scrutiny and always viewed as the dangerous ones.

These narratives have damaged the sense of safety and security for Muslim Americans. Although these sentiments are still present today, viewers and consumers are slowly beginning to realize that this one-dimensional version of a Muslim has a blatant disregard for the depth and diversity of the Muslim diaspora.

Yet the advertisers and marketers who help influence American society are afraid to make work for Ramadan. Are they afraid of making the wrong impression? Or worse, is there a deep-rooted fear of the community itself? Whatever it is, it’s truly an alienating experience to see myself depicted in one very harsh light.

The infrastructure to meaningfully connect with the Muslim American community simply does not exist. After spending some time researching brand behaviors around Ramadan and watching hundreds of Ramadan ads from across the world, only two campaigns stood out—one of which was over 20 years old, and neither came from the U.S.

For those keeping track, that’s $2.5 billion, 3.9 million Muslim Americans and only a handful of ads that go beyond a social post. Pretty outrageous, right?

The social barriers that have led to these numbers don’t have a valid reason to be in place. There are ways for brands to get meaningfully involved.

The questions you’re probably asking yourself

What is Ramadan anyway? Ramadan begins on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which happens to fall during April this year. The month entails fasting from dawn until sunset, and Muslims abstain from food and water during that time. The month provides a way for Muslims to reconnect with their faith, a chance to get closer to their communities and an opportunity to build better habits.

Why haven’t I heard about this before? The reason you’re asking shows just how long overdue this is in American advertising.

Why should we care? When we ignore such a large group of people, we send a message that their practices and beliefs don’t matter, and we can all agree that we don’t want to be sending those types of messages anymore.

Is it ok to advertise during Ramadan? Yes, some of the biggest brands advertise year after year but exclusively in the MENA region.

Does everything have to be super serious? No, contrary to popular belief, we do in fact have a sense of humor.

What to expect in your Ramadan planning journey

At its core, Ramadan is a religious observance and requires a level of respect. That being said, this isn’t just another holiday to win a Cannes award or hit some quarterly goals.

There are 3.9 million Muslims with spending power, but that doesn’t mean you can dive in and ask for their money. At best you’ll be pandering, at worst you’ll be offensive. You need to go in with a real interest in developing a connection with this group. Otherwise, you won’t succeed.

We spoke with 25 young Muslims from our Gen Z panel about their Ramadan experiences in America. These young Muslim Americans gave us some important insights that marketers could learn a lot from. Here are three entry points to help advertisers acknowledge Ramadan in 2023:

Sunset to sunrise. Even though we fast all day, food remains part of the practice. Friends and family get together to cook, exchange dishes and host iftars on a regular basis. Sharing different cultures with our community through food is the Ramadan love language. If you’re in the food category, this is a time to step up and be a part of those iftar and suhoor meals.

Ramadan brain. It’s no surprise that if you’re fasting from dawn until sunset, your biorhythms are completely flipped. Many of us plan our day and rearrange our routines based on our changing energy levels. Maintaining the same productive routine is hard when you can’t afford to use what little energy you have during the day. To the brands in the health and fitness category—think about hosting classes at night or creating Ramadan meal plans.

Full stomach, full hearts. As the first of two Eids in the Muslim faith, Eid al-Fitr is the holiday marking the end of Ramadan. It’s a day for Muslims to celebrate the blessings of the holy month over prayer, community gatherings and food. Families spend the day visiting one another and exchanging gifts with loved ones. If you’re in the retail category, here’s an opportunity to make Eid celebrations beautiful and fun.

What are you waiting for?

Our industry has the influence to change perspectives and shift social conversation. These are just a few insights to help acknowledge a community that is so rarely celebrated in the U.S. So next year, consider adding Ramadan to your cultural calendar, and come celebrate with us.